Students occupy the Ziff building to protest the treatment of staff and students

‘Students are angry. Staff are angry. And much to senior management’s surprise, we stand together in solidarity’

On the morning of Monday 23rd May, a group of students occupied the council chamber in the Marjorie and Arnold Ziff building on the University of Leeds campus, protesting against the treatment of staff and students.

They gained access to the council chamber and secured a meeting with the Vice-Chancellor, Simone Buitendijk, within 20 minutes of occupying the room.

The occupiers told The Leeds Tab that they have been trying to meet with Buitendijk for over a year.

The occupiers have two demands:

  1. No pay deductions for staff taking part in the marking boycott
  2. The Vice-Chancellor commits to resolving the Leeds UCU and Unison disputes with a public statement supporting their demands

Many university staff are currently participating in the marking boycott in a fight for equality and fair play and change regarding casualisation and workload.

This campaign has been termed “The Four Fights”. University management responded to the marking boycott with an 100 per cent pay cut for all participating staff members.

It is this pay cut that provoked students to occupy the Ziff building, in a movement they have named #TakingTheZiff, and fight against the treatment of students and staff by the university.

According to University of Leeds Unison, the Vice-Chancellor has refused to meet with them and has not responded to their written concern.

Their members have not seen a pay rise for 12 years and many are now relying on food banks to live.

Students and staff rallied together outside the “wavy bacon” statue on campus in solidarity with the occupiers.

Several shared their own personal experiences, including a postgraduate researcher at the uni, the co-casualisation officer at the Leeds UCU, the Chair of Unison at the university, an ex-occupier from 2010 and a pension rep from UCU.

In a compelling speech, Joanne, the co-casualisation officer at the university stated “Students deserve to be taught by staff who know they will have secure employment for the next weeks, months, years”

Joanne said, “Students are angry. Staff are angry. And much to senior management’s surprise, we stand together in solidarity.”

One member of staff at the rally said, “For about five or six years I was on a zero hour temporary contract and it was horrendous, I had no job security and every summer I was unemployed”, stating that the university has done “very little” to rectify these issues.

A student at the university said, “It is very easy for students to blame their lecturers and tutors for the marking strike, but the issue is deep-rooted in a university where the only people who profit are those at the top”.

The occupiers intend on occupying the Ziff building until “the disputes are resolved” and occupiers are updating regularly through social media outlets.

A University of Leeds spokesperson said: “It is deeply regrettable that our community is one of only 20 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.

“Our priorities remain to protect the interests of students – including minimising any disruption to them; to retain the cohesion of our community; and to protect the standard of Leeds degrees.

“The University will consider participation in a marking/assessment boycott to be partial performance, resulting in pay deductions of up to 100 per cent 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 per cent.”

The rally will resume everyday at 5pm outside the “wavy bacon” statue.

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