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University accused of ‘vindictive attack’ as staff lose 21 days’ pay due to protest | The universities

Queen Mary University of London, a member of the prestigious Russell Group, has been called the ‘worst university employer in the UK’ after withholding 100% of the salaries of staff taking part in a nationwide tagging boycott to protest pay conditions and work. .

The University and College Union (UCU) says more than 100 Queen Mary staff panicked over how to pay rent and bills this month after the university deducted full pay for 21 days in their July paychecks, because they refused to tag the students. ‘ work in June. The union says many staff opened payslips with nothing in them, despite still carrying out the ‘vast majority’ of their duties, including teaching and research. The university is again threatening 100% partial work deductions in August.

Following national strikes earlier in the year, 19 universities were hit by a landmark boycott at the end of May. Many of them, including Sheffield, Leeds, Nottingham, Brighton, Dundee and Westminster, joined Queen Mary in threatening to quit full pay for partial performances. But UCU says no other university has ever acted on those threats.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said Queen Mary’s senior management had ‘launched a vindictive attack’ on its members, ‘punishing them for taking part in legal industrial action’ and ‘consolidating its reputation as the worst employer UK university”.

She said: “It’s wrong to do this all the time and all the more deplorable as staff struggle to make ends meet in a cost of living crisis.”

This decision caused panic among scholars from other universities. With Liz Truss and fellow Conservative leadership candidate Rishi Sunak both vowing to crack down on unions, they fear this could set a dangerous precedent for crushing industrial action in higher education. A GoFundMe page to support strikers who have lost their wages has raised almost £60,000 in donations.

A young researcher from Queen Mary’s film department, who asked not to be named if there were any repercussions from management, said: ‘When people started getting these payroll deductions, they were freaking out. There was a lot of anger and confusion. We love our job, but it’s bullying. It’s really painful because you have worked very hard even without marking and you find out when you open your payslip that you have inadvertently worked for free.

Dr Kate Hall, a lecturer in politics and international relations at Queen Mary, whose salary has been suspended, said ‘getting by without 21 days’ pay is extremely difficult’.

She said the prospect of losing 42 days’ pay over the entire summer was “so scary”, but insisted academics would not back down. “It has strengthened our resolve because it is such an extreme response to staff asking for a more sustainable working environment.”

Miri Rubin, professor of history at Queen Mary, tweeted: “It’s like being slapped: in the three weeks – now unpaid – I conducted research, supervised doctorates, advised undergraduates , served on 2 nominating committees, chaired a viva school, conducted assessments and scored all scripts required for our finalists to graduate.”

Laura Gray Blair is pursuing a doctorate and teaches at Queen Mary. Photography: Sophia Evans/The Observer

Laura Gray Blair, a doctoral student who also teaches at the college, said she understands the stress the boycott has caused undergraduates in her department. “I tried to be clear with them that the situation in which the staff find themselves is not tenable. They are mainly supervised by temporary workers who do not know if they will have a job next year.

Blair said staff involved in the boycott continued to teach and support students in June despite the university’s warning that they would not be paid. “We did it because we care about our students and many of us couldn’t believe senior management would carry out such a damaging action,” she added.

A final-year film student, who asked not to be named, said students did not trust comments from anonymous substitute scorers. “The quality of some comments has been atrocious. Sometimes students only have one word,” he said.

Students who knew staff had lost their salaries were “shocked”, he said. “It seems so cruel. How are lecturers who can’t afford food or rent going to provide us with a world-class education? »

A Queen Mary spokesman said the impact of the action had been “limited”. “The vast majority of our 32,000 students are unaffected. Of a workforce of around 5,400, only 108 had their pay deducted following a partial performance in June.

He said: “Since the start of the national industrial action, our top priority has been to protect the education of our students. We therefore asked staff to prioritize educational activities and deprioritize other work if necessary. »

The spokesperson added that the university was continuing to negotiate but that UCU members “have not yet agreed to a reasonable agreement”.

Goldsmiths, University of London on Friday became one of the latest institutions to sign an agreement ending its tagging boycott. But a spokesperson said the university was “very sorry that 119 students did not receive their grades in time for our summer graduation ceremonies”.

He said all affected students would now receive their grades, with final-year and international students given priority, and the university would hold subsequent ceremonies as well as welfare support.

Nearly 4,000 international scholars have signed a petition to reinstate Professor Des Freedman and Dr Gholam Khiabany, Head and Deputy Head of Goldsmiths’ acclaimed Media, Communications and Cultural Studies department, who were suspended after emailing students saying they could not not graduate.

The university declined to comment on the matter.