ContextBeginning on 20th April 2023, the UCU has entered into a Marking and Assessment Boycott, which is classified as Action Short Of a Strike. This FAQ continues to refer to "the strike", but what is said applies to the boycott.
What is the strike about?
The UCU is engaged in two disputes with the employers' body, Universities UK: one concerns the serious restriction of our pension rights as a result of dubious valuations of the pension fund, and the other concerns the 'four fights', for fair pay, for a reasonable workload and for gender and ethnic equality, and against the increasing casualisation that blights the career of young academic colleagues. Some progress has been made with regard to USS, and industrial action in that dispute has been suspended as talks continue. The present strike relates only to the Four Fights dispute. I encourage undergradute and graduate students to support the union in its fight for fair pay and conditions.
Last time industrial action was taken the students' union NUS issued a statement in support of the strike, and I hope they will do so again this time.
What are the dates of the boycott?
The boycott began on 20th April, and will likely continue until the dispute is resolved.
Will you be joining the strike?
It is part of the rules governing strike action that no notice need be given to an employer whether an employee will participate in a strike or not. In fact, an employee does not have to declare to the employer whether he or she is a member of a trade union or not, and employees can join the union at the last minute if they want to strike and enjoy the union's protection against unfair dismissal. So I decline to say in advance whether I will be joining the strike.
I've seen you around college: why are you not on strike?
The action is against the University, not against colleges, partly because it would be impractical to ballot the UCU members in each individual college. So, during the strike, I will still be meeting students and giving tutorials, both for Oriel students directly, and for the students of other colleges whom I teach as part of an arrangement between colleges. I will continue to help them prepare for exams, hoping that sufficient progress is made in negotiations for the strike to be suspended and exams to go ahead.
Because the boycott is "action short of a strike", participants will continue to fulfil their other duties, apart from examining.
Aren't you amply rewarded for the work you do?
I think so. But the point of industrial action is that workers take it in a united way. Though my pay comfortably supports my way of life and that of my family, and my conditions of employment leave me feeling secure, there are many younger colleagues who are not in this fortunate position: paid too little to afford to live in Oxford, and kept on short-term contracts that offer them no real job security. It is for their sake that I want to be involved.
Isn't it unfair to punish students because of a dispute that doesn't concern them?
If you are involved in education, then the dispute does concern you, as Oxford students recognised last time the union took strike action. They realise that some of their best teachers have inadequate pay and untenable conditions of employment, and realise that the continuation of outstanding university education in Oxford is not viable unless pay and conditions improve. Everyone is involved in education to some extent, if only by enjoying the fruits of the research that is done in universities or benefiting from the skills of those educated there.