MAB Updates 25th May 2023

We are writing to update you on our ongoing marking and assessment boycott (MAB), which is now entering its fifth week. Participating in the marking and assessment boycott (MAB) can be confusing and challenging on multiple fronts, but we are hearing from some schools that it is already having an effect. Thank you to colleagues who are making sacrifices to participate – our branch fundraiser is going well in support of them, raising £5,500 in its first week.
We have written to University Executive Board (UEB) to explain that UCU have served notice for strike action in relation to UEB’s punitive deductions policy. Members decided at a branch EGM on the 28th April to escalate to targeted strike action if UEB refused to revisit its punitive deductions policy. Unfortunately, UEB has not altered its position on deductions. In order to protect our ability to conduct this form of industrial action now and in the future, we need to escalate to strike action. We are targeting specific dates over the summer, including “graduation ceremonies”, clearing and Clearing Open Day in August, and Welcome Week in September. We hope that the UEB will reconsider and that we will not have to take action on these days, but are resolute that they will go ahead if necessary.
This is a difficult time. This first national MAB is coming on the back of on-and-off industrial action over the last five years and in the face of our real-terms incomes being decimated. Employers in the sector are increasingly hostile to their staff, and are continually ‘innovating’ new ways to degrade pay and working conditions and then stop us from taking industrial action when we refuse to let these degradations go. We need to be able to take industrial action like MABs to make our employers listen. And, regrettably, we need to strike when our employers do everything they can to stop us doing the things we need to do to be heard.
In the rest of this email, we have a few ‘asks’. To complete our MAB survey, to donate to the fighting fund if you are not participating, and to collect data about marking in your schools or units where you can. There are also suggestions for increasing the effectiveness of our MAB by making the administration of pay deductions as difficult as possible for our employer.
If you want to discuss anything about the MAB or strike days, come along to MAB solidarity meetings, talk to other members, catch your dep rep for five or email the branch office at
MAB survey
If you haven’t already responded to our branch survey about participation in the MAB, please do so. There are options if you are not sure. There are options if you will not be participating. Every response helps us to get a clearer picture of where are our action is:
Branch fighting fund GoFundMe
We have raised £5,500 for our fighting fund since we launched the branch GoFundMe last week. Diolch yn fawr to everyone who has contributed so far. What we have raised so far will provide tangible help to members participating in the action.
We have had donations of all sizes –thank you all– but we would make even more rapid progress to our goal of £20,000 with a larger number of small donations. Please, donate £50 to the fund if you are not participating. Money is tight for a lot of people at the moment, but this dispute is about the future of the whole higher eduction sector in the Wales and in the UK. We need to show our employers that they cannot simply ignore us.
Donating £50 will cover a day of strike pay. Donating £250 will cover a week of strike pay. Donating £1080 will cover strike pay for a month. The more people we have in the dispute and the better we can support them, the more quickly this dispute will come to a head.
If you want your donation to go even further, please consider giving directly. This is perhaps less visible than GoFundMe, but it means that even more can go into the pockets of members taking action on behalf of everyone:
Account Name: UCU Cardiff LA12 Fighting FundSort code: 60-83-01 Account no: 20341260
Or send a cheque (payable to “UCU Cardiff LA12 Fighting Fund”) to: Cardiff UCU49b Park Place Cardiff CF10 3AT
Don’t make it easier for our employer to make deductions!
Everything that happens at this university happens because staff professionally work to their briefs, whether they have been given specific instructions or (more usually) not.
In this dispute, Cardiff University management is attempting to take advantage of the professionalism of staff in order to get away with making punitive deductions while getting you to volunteer your labour. Don’t let them do this.
Our action is effective because it disrupts the business of the University. We can add to the disruption of participating in the MAB by making it as administratively difficult and complex as possible to take away our wages.
What follows are some suggestions of things to do to help back-up your action.
Ask for clarity about the tasks you are being asked to complete
The University has stated that it does not accept partial performance and that any work you complete while MABing will be ‘voluntary’. The University has also said it will, at this moment, leave you with 50% of your pay in recognition of the ‘other duties’ that you may be completing.
It is critical that you ask your manager to enumerate which tasks, specifically, they are expecting you to complete in order to receive the 50% pay for completing ‘other duties’. Our contracts are vague and generally do not contain lists of specific duties. It is reasonable, therefore, for you to seek specific direction from your manager about the tasks you need to complete to receive the 50% payment.
Where you have not received direction to complete a particular task, or your manager refuses to give you any directions, then you should consider your work on all tasks to be voluntary (as this is what your employer has indicated).
At this point, you should think carefully about the tasks you complete. You may choose to continue ‘as normal’ with the rest of your duties. If you do so, you should do so on the basis that recovering any unpaid wages for this voluntary work will be exceptionally difficult. Alternatively, you may decide that, given you are only being paid 50% of your salary, you will be very much more selective with the tasks that you complete.
For example, you may wish to ask for direction from your manager over whether they want you:To supervise PGT students. You may prefer not to ‘volunteer’ to complete this task in the absence of direction.To complete mandatory training. You may prefer not to ‘volunteer’ to complete this task in the absence of direction. (We’d suggest you complete fire safety training in any case, though.)To continue to work on externally funded projects (see below). You may prefer not to ‘volunteer’ to complete this task in the absence of direction. To complete tasks that are especially important to the University or your school or unit (rather than your individual career). Meetings with important external and internal stakeholders, “graduation ceremony”-related activities, open days, meetings with external accrediting agencies, visible outreach activities, anything that may be necessary to help build an impact case study, etc. You may prefer not to ‘volunteer’ to complete this task in the absence of direction.
Be strategic about what tasks you volunteer to do, if any. Be clear with your manager that you are asking to be directed to complete tasks at their discretion in order to receive 50% of your wages. If you volunteer to complete certain tasks, try to make sure these are tasks that are of obvious direct benefit to your career. Where the balance for a task is more weighted toward your school or the University, you may want to consider whether you want to work on these tasks without proper remuneration.
Ask about external funders
Is part of your time currently externally funded? If you are participating in the MAB, ask your manager whether the University intends to inform the funder that they have told you your work on the project is voluntary and that any pay you receive will be at a fraction of the rate at which the University will be intending to invoice.
If you have asked for specific direction to work on the project and not received it, you should ask your manager how the University plans to proceed if you decide not to voluntarily complete this task. Depending on your funding arrangements, the University may be in breach of its contract with its funder if you are not directed to perform the work and refuse to volunteer to work for half or no wages. Make sure any directions from your manager to complete this task are in put in writing. If you are in this situation, we advise you discuss with your dep rep or with the branch ( before you take any firm decisions.
Collect any data you can about marking progress in your school or unit
Our employer is claiming that deductions can begin the moment work becomes available. This is obviously not custom and practice for marking and assessment. Where you are able to obtain information in your school or unit about the progress of marking (e.g., of UG final year projects, of modules with completed marking), make a record of it. If you can do this week by week, this will help to establish what we already know – almost no marking starts the moment the deadline for an assessment passes.
Been told to prioritise marking? Even more important to have data
Has your Head of School or Director made a ‘reasonable management request’ requiring you to prioritise your marking? The University is doing this to try and justify deductions at the earliest possible moment, and to force you to decide whether to participate earlier so that they can work around your action.
In all cases where you have received this message, you should reply to your HoS or Director to explain that, as part of our industrial action, you are working a 35hr week (or which ever proportion of that you work if you are a part-time member of staff), and that you require instructions on which tasks to deprioritise in order to prioritise marking. You will need these instructions so that you can inform students, colleagues, collaborators, funders and stakeholders that you have been told to deprioritise your work with them. (Rather than you simply choosing to deprioritise them yourself.)
Where all staff in a unit or school have been instructed to prioritise marking, it is reasonable for staff to expect that this instruction will be fairly and evenly enforced. If all staff have been asked to prioritise marking, all staff should be doing that, regardless of whether they are likely or unlikely to participate in the MAB. Try to collect data about how these instructions are being enforced. If you find that this instruction is being selectively enforced for some staff (e.g., known active UCU members) but not others, we’d like to know about it by email to or through your dep rep. The branch would consider the selective enforcement of reasonable management instructions to the detriment of active UCU members (e.g., having to cancel time-sensitive tasks that cannot be deferred) to be a form of victimisation.
Where you have been given an individual instruction to prioritise marking, try and find out whether your colleagues who have MAB-related responsibilities have been given similar instructions. If they have not, ask the person who issued the instruction to prioritise marking why you, particularly, have been given this instruction. Let us know what response you get by email to or via your dep rep.
All of these actions are going to make more work for someone else in the University. This may feel a little awkward in some instances. You are so used to completing your tasks with very little oversight that you may feel like you are not being collegial by asking these kinds of questions. Ask yourself whether it is collegial for your financial security threatened with punitive salary deductions because you are refusing to perform one very small part of your job.
If you are not sure how to proceed in your situation, discuss it with your dep rep or email