Students supporting UCU strike occupy Leeds University management offices in protest
‘Occupy Leeds Uni’ are currently squatting in the Level 13 Executives Offices of the Marjorie and Arnold Ziff Building at the University of Leeds. The group, comprised of students who support the current UCU and UNISON strikes, is protesting what they call the University’s “abhorrent response to industrial action”.
The University and College Union, one of the largest higher education trade unions in the UK, started its industrial action all the way back in December with 58 universities across the UK striking to some degree. UCU’s disputes with University management center on the former’s claims of falling pay, gender and ethnic pay gaps, precarious employment practices, and unsafe workloads.
Upon a previous request for comment, a spokesperson from the University of Leeds told The Gryphon: “Our priorities are to protect the interests of students, including minimising any disruption to them; retain the cohesion of our community; and protect the standards of Leeds degrees.”
They added: “Many of the other issues in dispute are within our gift to address, and we are already taking action to address UCU’s concerns about workload and casualisation.”
Since the strikes started, UNISON, the union which represents many non-academic university staff, has joined in the fight. Yet, in most institutions, negotiations have reached a stalemate.
Last month, 41 branches of the University and College Union (UCU) backed a national marking and assessment boycott, supported by 86% of staff who returned ballots. But only 20 universities are going ahead with a boycott after opposition from branches and members led to national action being curtailed by the union’s executive in favour of letting individual campuses decide. UCU Leeds is still planning on proceeding with the boycott.
This has escalated tensions further as University managers at Leeds have told staff they face having 100% of their pay docked if they take part in the boycott, which would include not marking end of year exams and dissertations.
‘Occupy Leeds Uni’ claims that it will maintain its occupation of the offices until management agrees to no pay deductions for staff taking part in the marking boycott and the Vice-Chancellor commits to resolving the Leeds UCU and Unison disputes by supporting their demands.
According to Tweets from the Occupy Leeds Uni account, the group has also met with the Vice Chancellor today to speak about their demands.
Upon request for comment, a University spokesperson said: “It is deeply regrettable that our community is one of only 21 from about 150 nationally that is subject to this marking and assessment boycott. We have already made a series of commitments to deal with some of the issues at the heart of this industrial action, including cutting the use of short term contracts.
“The University will consider participation in a marking/assessment boycott to be partial performance, resulting in pay deductions of up to 100% due to breach of contract, although where staff notify us of their involvement in advance to help us mitigate the impact, we will deduct at 50%.”
Occupy Leeds Uni is hosting an ‘Occupiers’ protest’ today at 5pm at the wavy bacon statue for all those who wish to show solidarity with striking university staff.