Durham offers staff up to £1,000 to avoid marking boycott

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Durham UCU will discuss next week whether to hold an online vote over a proposal from the University which could resolve ongoing local industrial disputes, preventing the Union’s marking boycott which is due to start on 23rd May.

Earlier today Durham UCU and Professor Antony Long, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost released a joint statement, saying talks between the Union and the University are at an “advanced stage”.

The offer put forward by the University includes a joint statement advocating for “a fair and affordable USS pension scheme”, one-off payments of up to £1,000 to all staff, the launch of two working groups related to workload issues, and a review of fixed-term contract use.

Durham UCU announced in a newsletter to members today that it will hold an internal discussion on 16th May and vote on whether to hold an online vote on the proposal, the results of which will be released on 23rd May. Palatinate understands that the national Union could overrule any local decision, on the basis that it may undermine the actions of other branches.

This comes amid mounting student pressure for the University management to ensure the boycott is avoided. More than 900 students have signed an open letter to the Vice-Chancellor Professor Karen O’Brien demanding the University negotiate with DUCU and that a framework is set up to mitigate future industrial action.

The letter which was launched earlier this week has received the backing of multiple student groups including Durham People Of Colour Association, Durham Intersectional Feminism Society, and Durham Working Class Students Association. It also calls on the University to “issue partial refunds for teaching time missed due to strike action”.

Students warn that if their demands are not met the University may face further open day protests in June and fee strikes in 2022/23.

If [the University] cannot provide the service we pay for, we will withhold payment.

The joint statement emailed to students today said that the University and DUCU “are aware of the anxiety and concern among our students” and offered reassurance that “significant ongoing activity between the University Executive and our trade unions to minimise the impact by reaching a resolution.”

Last week, Durham Students’ Union announced that it would not be supporting the boycott due to the negative impact on students, saying “We know this is not a decision that academic staff will make lightly, knowing the disruption a marking boycott could cause, but our frustration is directed at the University.”

Anya Chukyov, the President of Durham’s Intersectional Feminism Society and a signatory of the open letter told Palatinate, “Over the last three years, Durham University students have consistently been disaffected by the management putting profit above the student academic experience and staff welfare.

“The University must stop using its status to hide behind the vulnerable position staff have been put in. This letter is an opportunity for the University to finally put its staff and students first.”

Niall Hignett, the organiser of the South Student protest group echoed these comments saying, “Durham University must listen to their staff and students. We’re calling for a swift resolution to the UCU Four Fights dispute, alongside a change in attitude towards the UUK pensions cuts.

“If [the University] cannot provide the service we pay for, we will withhold payment. The ball is in management’s court; they would be unwise to ignore staff and students when the stakes are so high.”

Durham UCU has also released further details about how the marking boycott will be conducted if the proposal is rejected. Union members were told, “Once the boycott starts, you should immediately stop marking any work you have already received to mark (exams, dissertations and other assessments), and not mark any subsequent work. You should also not return marks for work that was marked previously but not submitted.

This is an indefinite marking boycott, so will continue until further notice.”

In addition to the marking boycott, ten further days of industrial action have been planned, though the dates of these strikes have yet been confirmed. Durham UCU had informed the national UCU “that we would prefer our ten days of strike action to be held in reserve for later in the dispute.”

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