Cambridge UCU condemns University over ‘union-busting’ pay deductions

The still-unrecognised union has now called for “stronger and harder national strike action”

The Cambridge branch of the University and College Union (a trade union representing academic staff) has condemned the University of Cambridge over threats to deduct pay for striking staff in a motion it passed yesterday (17/11).

According to Cambridge UCU, the University has emailed academic staff suggesting it will deduct up to 25% of salary for each day that a striking staff member does not reschedule disrupted lectures/classes or upload material related to cancelled teaching.

A spokesperson for the University added that “it will only withhold pay for strike action and for action short of strike which constitutes a breach of contract. The circumstances surrounding this period of industrial action are unlike any other. Students have already experienced close to two years of major disruption to their education. Cambridge – in line with other employers across the sector – is taking this action with our students in mind.

However, Cambridge UCU claims that these pay deductions are “punitive and divisive” and are aimed at punishing staff rather than helping students. They also pointed out that the University’s claim that these measures were implemented to protect students contradicts the support shown by student groups – such as Cambridge SU and Cambridge Defend Education (CDE) – during last term’s strike action. 

Student support for the strikes ranged from breakfast runs to the picket lines to speeches at daily rallies, with an investigation by The Tab revealing that just 12% of Cambridge students opposed last term’s strikes.

The Cambridge UCU also argued that the minimal impact of the strikes on teaching would suggest that the University’s response is not targeted at minimising disruption to students, but instead part of “a coordinated attempt to break our strike.”

For undergraduates, only one day of teaching was affected by strike action last term (01/12/21).

In response to the pay deductions, the Cambridge UCU has called for “stronger and harder national strike action to win this dispute” and asked UCU’s national Higher Education Committee to re-ballot members in order to extend their mandate to strike in Easter term.

They have also pledged to publicly campaign against the University’s policy of pay deductions and plan to reach out to the Cambridge SU as well as alumni for support. The organisation also intends to raise money from members and supporters to make up pay deductions for those who refuse to reschedule teaching. 

In addition, Cambridge UCU has expressed support for the idea of community assemblies between staff, students, and the wider community in order to build support for their four fights, which cover opposition to pension cuts, higher workloads, and casualisation, and support for pay equality.

On Twitter, they claimed, “we do not do this lightly.” The motion stated that marketisation, privatisation, and student debt have resulted in a “broken” higher education system that required strike action. 

Featured image credits: Vedika Mandapati