What is the dispute about?
There are two ongoing disputes – on the cuts to pensions, and on the general degradation of pay and conditions in universities (the “Four Fights” of pay, inequality, casualisation and workload).
We are asking the employer to provide public statements on the national disputes which will contribute to a successful conclusion of them. We are also asking them to back this up with sufficient local improvements and mitigations to demonstrate their long-term commitment to fair pay, pensions and conditions nationally.
Durham University could be a vocal and influential leader amongst the employers in the national disputes, in order to end them on terms which are fair to workers – so far it has not done so.
Why a marking boycott?
Prior to the announcement of the marking boycott we have tried less disruptive forms of industrial action – open letters, working to contract, short strikes, protests – without this resulting in significant progress in either the national disputes or on our local claim.
Unfortunately, as the national pay and pensions situation remains poor, with many employees facing a 6% real-terms loss of pay, we must escalate the dispute further with more disruptive forms of action.
The nature of industrial action is that it must be disruptive or threaten to be disruptive to be effective. We are currently in meaningful negotiations which may avoid this disruption, subject to further discussions and approval by the branch.
Can a marking boycott be avoided?
Negotiations between representatives of Durham UCU and Senior Management are ongoing. It is hoped that these will result in a formal offer by the employer covering the aspects above.
Any formal offer would then be put to the branch membership for a decision, which would take about a week to allow internal discussion and votes to be collected. There is therefore still time for an acceptable offer to be put and voted on before the marking boycott begins, if senior management treat it with sufficient urgency.
Similarly, with the effects of a marking boycott being cumulative, it would be possible with slightly less urgency shown to bring it to a close after it started but before the timing of graduation was affected.
We have no interest in carrying on a marking boycott one day more than necessary – but until an offer is accepted, it is necessary.
What can students do?
It is obviously in students’ interests that the dispute be ended – at least locally – as soon as possible. Durham UCU’s negotiators are ready to meet as often as necessary to agree a deal; Durham UCU’s members are ready to vote on that deal once it is agreed, and to end the marking boycott if it is accepted.
It is up to senior management to urgently make an acceptable offer. Students can contact the Vice-Chancellor and other University Executive members to encourage them to do this.
Many students are also eligible to join UCU and make clear that they will not take senior management’s side by marking work in place of staff taking action.
What other information is available?
The employer has asked that details of the negotiations are kept confidential for now. However, the following links will provide some additional information and context for the wider dispute.