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ASOS Diary

Amanda Williams, acting President of UEA UCU is keeping a diary while taking part in the marking boycott.


A very busy day today, one of the modules I look after teaches 500 students and has a teaching team of 7 people and I had some bits and bobs to sort out for that. I was meant to be chairing a teaching practices forum but we had a speaker in for a GM today from the UCU national negotiating team so a colleague stepped in to chair instead.

Off to meet the national speaker for the UCU GM (who had had to tangle with the London to Norwich trains which were running late/cancelled. Sometimes it’s has felt quite lonely being a branch committee out on a limb on the pointy end of a national industrial dispute and the feeling that Norwich is out on a limb was exacerbated by the trains.   The meeting was the first general meeting I have chaired and was a bit of a baptism of fire. Feelings were running understandably high. We will soon need to have some elections for the committee as we have a lot of casual vacancies at the moment (which I forgot to mention in the meeting). Hopefully the level of engagement we saw in the meeting yesterday will be reflected in getting lots of people to put themselves forward for nomination into committee and officer roles. We need to harness all that energy for the good of the members of UCU at UEA. And we need to put in all the legwork to get a EGM for next week.

After that back to normal so a couple of meetings about UCU casework, a meeting with a colleague about their teaching practice and a meeting with my head of group about one of my big modules.



So in work today, not getting paid – well probably, maybe? I don’t have any assessment activities scheduled until the end of the week. Busy day today. I took a seminar about leases and financial instruments, had a couple of hours of “office hour”. I’ve taught 700 students this semester so office hours can get quite busy. I also took a couple of lectures today and attended a university committee as the UCU representative.


The actions started officially last Thursday and all last week was quite busy behind the scenes, with a lot of letter writing and email drafting going on. I worked about 60 hours (including the weekend) and expect to get paid for just Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday; since I got dropped into the post of Acting President for the local UCU branch at the start of October, 50-60 hour weeks have been pretty typical. Other people have been busy writing letters or Facebook postings. I was sent a link to a Facebook page which a UEA student had written and the support of the student body and individual students is brilliant.

Pension meeting 12th November

Paul Bridge Head of HE at UCU will be at UEA on Wednesday 12th November 13.00 Lecture Theatre One.

An opportunity for UCU members to find out more about the dispute and ask questions.


UCU UEA marking boycott

The full details and guidance from UCU head office about participating in the action is available on the UCU website here


As you know UEA has threatened to deduct 100% pay from people taking part in the marking boycott.  However, they have confirmed (UEA access only) that “pay will be withheld from the date which a colleague informs the University is the date on which action has been or will be commenced. It will not be retrospectively deducted from staff who begin action at a later date.”

You don’t need to inform management of your intentions ( you may not even fully know them yourself) but once the marking boycott has started you need to answer truthfully if you are asked whether you are taking part.  Please see suggested wording on the UCU website.

If you decide to join or leave the marking boycott once it has started you should inform your manager when you change your mind.


If you are taking part in the boycott please keep the following information:

  • What information are your managers asking you for in respect of the marking boycott?
  • Please check your November payslip and let us know whether or not your pay has been withheld.  If it has been withheld we will send you some instructions about commencing grievance procedures.
  • Keep a copy of your payslip.
  • Keep a record/diary of what you are doing at work over the course of the marking boycott – hours worked, broad activities undertaken.  Also,  keep notes if you are specifically directed to perform work. While it is admittedly unlikely that much would turn on it, there is some evidence in the case law that where that happens, an employer might be said to have displaced or negated its own previous assertion that all work was voluntary and that partial performance would not be accepted – such as to justify making a 100% pay deduction
  • Please let us know if the university either gives you instructions to carry out your work or prevents you doing your normal work, for example by cancelling teaching sessions, or getting colleagues to cover your teaching sessions.



Supporting the pension action

Here are some ways you can still support those colleagues who are in a position to carry out the marking boycott:

  • Encourage colleagues who are not already members to join UCU.
  • Encourage colleagues to write to the VC to complain about both the pension proposals and the 100% pay deduction.
  • Display the posters about the pension dispute in your offices and departments.
  • Pledge your services to help your local officers, committee and reps run the pension campaign.
  • Talk to students about the dispute.
  • Make a donation to the fighting fund. You could consider giving one or two days salary to support colleagues who are able to participate in the action for longer periods.
  • Send a message of support, via the UCU office, to your colleagues who are taking an active part in the boycott.
  • Tell people how you are supporting the campaign.
  • Email the UCU office and tell us how you are supporting the campaign.
  • Add a message to your email signature in support of your colleagues.
  • I will be wearing something pink or purple each day during the action to show my support and involvement in the action.
  • If you have any suggestions of other ways to support the campaign please let us know in the local UCU office.



Defend USS pensions

Tuesday 4th November UEA staff were told that the university will deduct 100% pay from anyone participating in the Marking boycott.


UCU Acting President Amanda Williams & the local committee sent the following open letter:

Open letter to the VC from UCU local branch committee


Dear Professor Richardson


I have today learnt that UEA intends to deduct 100% pay from staff taking part in industrial action.  As you know colleagues who are members of the University and College Union (UCU) were recently balloted over strike action and action short of a strike, and on the basis of that democratic mandate UCU has asked its members to support a marking boycott starting on 6 November.


I am disappointed by the unnecessarily adversarial attitude adopted by the Executive Team at UEA.  All staff taking part in the marking boycott are doing so reluctantly, but we believe there is little else we can do to protect not just our own pensions, but those of our future colleagues.


While we are involved in the marking boycott we will, nonetheless, be diligently undertaking the rest of our professional duties.  This is despite the fact that the university intends to withhold our full salaries.  The university is acting disproportionately.


The proposals from the employers are eroding the implicit covenant between universities and their staff by undermining the principle that USS is a defined benefit scheme.  In the private sector defined contribution schemes are common; however having recently moved from employment at a for-profit HEI I can personally testify that in the commercial sector the provision of less valuable pension schemes is compensated by substantially larger salaries.


As I am sure you are aware academics from a number of universities have challenged the assumptions on which the pension deficit, the burning bridge being used to attempt to push through these proposals, has been calculated.


Warwick, Essex and Cambridge Universities have all broken ranks to criticise UUK.  The universities in UUK are therefore by no means unanimous in either accepting the need for the pension scheme to change nor in the way in which they are responding to industrial action at a local level.


One reason often given to justify a hard line in industrial disputes is that universities need to be more business-like.  This might have been true in the 1970’s however modern businesses know that the goodwill of their workforce is not something to be frittered.  The unprecedented threat to our remuneration and the aggressive stance being adopted towards those demonstrating against that threat has undermined the morale of many staff, irrespective of whether they are members of the union or not.


I am bewildered by the attitude of the university.  I might be able to understand this confrontational approach from organisations that exist solely for the economic benefit of their shareholders, but I find it hard to understand it in an organisation whose purpose is not primarily economic.  We should be on the same side, working to protect Higher Education in the UK.


I write in hope that the university will change its stance and start to adopt a more enlightened approach.