SOAS staff claim “wage theft” after 100% pay deductions over UCU strikes

Several staff members at SOAS University of London claim to have had at least £1,500 deducted from their pay for participating in a boycott on assessment and marking.
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Staff at a leading London university have had up to 100% of their wages docked over strike action, leading to claims of "wage theft".

Several University and College Union (UCU) members at SOAS University of London claim to have had at least £1,500 deducted from their pay for participating in a boycott on assessment and marking.

UCU started their boycott on April 20 as part of an ongoing dispute over pay and conditions.

The union says the deductions are “disproportionate and punitive” given marking constitutes in some cases as little as 5% of an academic’s official workload.

Employer pension contributions amounting to 20% in deferred wages are also being withheld, amounting to, in effect, a total deduction of 120%.

SOAS staff on the picket line following 100% wage deductions over assessment boycott. Credit: SOAS UCUSOAS staff on the picket line following 100% wage deductions over assessment boycott. Credit: SOAS UCU
SOAS staff on the picket line following 100% wage deductions over assessment boycott. Credit: SOAS UCU

The deductions have sparked intense anger among staff and students at the university.

Dr Ben Whitham, a lecturer in international relations, tweeted: “My employer at SOAS has snatched £1.5k from my gross pay as ‘strike’ deductions for April.

“Reader, we *did not take a single day’s strike action in April*. We boycotted marking as ASOS. I did all my work except some moderation near the end of the month. This is wage theft.”

Dr Mayur Suresh, a senior lecturer in law wrote: “My employer SOAS has withheld just under £2k from my pay as "strike" deductions for April.

“We *did not take a single day’s strike action in April*. This year, I have published a book and won a major grant for my employer. As a reward, SOAS commits wage theft.”

While Dr Paul O’Connell tweeted: “My university just deducted £2000 from my wages, in the middle of a cost of living crisis, for 10 days of action short of strike - wage theft and attempted strike breaking from an institution that tries to sell itself as committed to "social justice”.”

A GoFundMe hardship fund set up to support SOAS staff has raised over £7,000 so far.

In response to the wage deductions the SOAS UCU branch has announced a full on strike action.

An initial 10-day strike started last Wednesday May 22 and today (May 31), a further eight days have been added on.

The outgoing SOAS UCU Branch Secretary, Dr David Lunn, said “I have never seen such strength of feeling among staff. Management’s decision to implement these deductions is incredibly callous.

“In the midst of a cost of living crisis some of us are being thrown below the poverty line by our management. It is morally indefensible, but also strategically unsound, as the escalation to strike action shows. More than that, the very fabric of the university—and the goodwill that sustains it—are being shredded as a result of management’s hubris.”

John McDonnell, Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington, said “I actually am ashamed of any association with SOAS now that they’ve taken [this decision]... I just didn’t expect it from SOAS: it’s a disgrace”.

Several other universities including Dundee and Liverpool Hope are also taking full strike action.

A spokesperson for SOAS University of London said: “We are disappointed that further industrial action has been called by the Universities and Colleges Union because we have been honest with our colleagues that we cannot afford further pay rises at this time.

“We are in regular contact with colleagues to update them on the steps we, along with other universities, are taking to mitigate the impact of industrial action to make sure that our students can progress and graduate. We have been clear that salary would be withheld for members of staff who participate in industrial action that affects the marking and assessment of students’ work.”