Queen Mary University threatened to deduct 100% of staff’s wages if they failed to reschedule classes missed during strikes.
In the face of threatened deductions, staff carried their two week strike to completion and responded by declaring their intention to, ‘disrupt assessment and exams until the threat is lifted.’
Employees at Queen Mary’s University London (QMUL) were among staff at 68 Universities across the U.K. taking strike action over the last fortnight. The University and College Union (UCU), who are representing striking university staff across the U.K., are demanding a reversal to changes in workers pension schemes as well as an improvement in pay and working conditions.
If the newly implemented pension scheme remains in place, a typical staff member’s guaranteed retirement income will be cut by 35%. The cuts have infuriated workers, particularly in the context of the rising cost of living and the wage of Bill Galvin, the CEO of the pension scheme at the heart of the dispute, whose annual salary was increased 17% to £566,000 in 2018, the year the strikes began.
The Union is calling for the university to increase wages for staff, noting that, ‘the value of pay in higher education fell by 17.6% relative to inflation between 2009 and 2019,’ and that it has fallen further since. Workers are also calling for universities to tackle the gender and race pay gaps, and to reduce, ‘unmanageable workloads and the widespread use of insecure contracts.’
QMUL responded to the strikes by asserting that they will withhold 100% of the pay of employees who refuse to reschedule all classes missed during the strike, arguing that the strike constituted, ‘a breach of contract and partial performance.
The university’s response has been among the most hardline of the universities facing industrial action, with Jo Grady, general secretary of the UCU, singling it out for criticism, labelling it, ‘brutal’ and claiming that it was designed to, ‘intimidate staff.’
The reaction of QMUL has led to promises of further industrial action from the staff, the resignation of dozens of external examiners, and demonstrations by students. On Thursday, police were called to one such demonstration on Mile End Road, where students had blocked entry to a QMUL Council meeting in a show of solidarity with staff.
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