Assessment boycott: 5 reasons to join the action

Dear colleague,

On Thursday the union will be asking you to join a comprehensive boycott of assessment and marking. I understand that is a big decision for any educator and I wanted to write to set out why the union believes it is so important that you join this action.

First, without significant industrial action there will be no further movement from the employers and all our pensions will be lower, with losses for some career academic and professional staff running into tens of thousands of pounds. I say this not in a defeatist way nor because I have anything but the highest regard for our negotiators, but because I believe it is true that without considerable external pressure, the employers will not budge.

Second, the democratic ballot conducted by UCU delivered an overwhelming mandate for action with 85% of those voting supporting an assessment and marking boycott. That strength of feeling now needs to be carried through into the action if we are to show the employers we mean business.

Third, because while the boycott will cause you and colleagues considerable difficulties and anguish, if we carry it out effectively it will hurt our employers’ business and reputation more.

Fourth, because despite the disruption they will face our students support us. This is true not just of the National Union of Students, although their solidarity with you is clear, but also of an ever increasing number of local student unions who understand that the downward pressure on pay and pensions within higher education will impact upon the quality of education we provide.

Fifth and finally, the most important reason is that the employers’ proposals are unjust and unnecessary. On the one hand, the scale of the problem with the USS deficit is multiplied because of the unsound methodology used. On the other the employers seek to use this exaggerated crisis to push through radical changes which will be impossible to undo. The result will be that staff working in the richest universities in the UK will have by far the lowest pensions – that simply cannot be right.

I have read like you about the many institutions who now say they are unhappy with the proposals made by Universities UK on their behalf. However, polite ‘behind the scenes’ criticism is not enough. Those institutions who share our concerns must now call upon their negotiators to think again and engage properly with your union.

Those employers, so far few in number, who are seeking to bully staff through threats of punitive pay docking need to think again too. The legacy of this dispute will last for years if employers make a difficult situation worse. No deduction of salary is easy to bear for staff but when major institutions like Imperial College choose to levy a sum of 25% of pay or less for participating in the boycott that just makes the decision of York University to threaten 100% pay deductions all the more obscene. 

The union will support members faced with punitive deductions both industrially and financially and institutions who bully their staff will face sector wide isolation, but there is no point in me being anything other than point blank honest with you. If we cannot resolve this dispute quickly, there is little doubt that members will face significant pay docking and that this will hurt financially. However, doing nothing will be costlier still given the cumulative losses to your annual pension income if the employers get their way.

Many members have already been in touch to ask practical questions about what they should and should not do during the boycott. A list of the questions so far can be found here. If you have questions that are not covered here please let me know and I will add your answered query so others will benefit.

I do not pretend that winning this dispute will be easy. Our first task is  to persuade the employers to negotiate seriously and that will be a challenge in itself. However, I can say that the union is with you 100% and we will do everything we can alongside your branch officers to defend your pensions.

Thank you for your support of the union.

Sally Hunt
UCU general secretary

PS If you know someone not yet in the union please pass this message on. If they join the union here, they can join the boycott.