Staff at a London university say they fear being tipped into poverty after their employer withheld 100 per cent of their pay for periods they were working.

SOAS University of London is accused of making drastic deductions from the payslips of staff this week for taking part in a marking and assessment boycott coordinated by the University and College Union (UCU), even though they were continuing with the rest of their jobs.

While marking is only a fraction of the workload for most academic staff, payslips shared by SOAS staff showed dramatic deductions simply listed as “strike”.

International relations lecturer Dr Ben Whitham shared a payslip showing a £1,535.66 deduction, writing: “Reader, we did not take a single day’s strike action in April.

“We boycotted marking as ASOS (action short of strike). I did all work except some moderation near the end of the month.”

Reader in law Dr Paul O’Connell, 42, had more than £2,000 deducted from his wages for refusing to complete an estimated 18 hours of work as part of the boycott.

He said: “It’s completely disproportionate for the amount of work we are refusing to do.”

Addressing the financial impact of the pay deductions, Dr O’Connell said: “I’ve got a young child with my partner and we’re a single-income household, so that income loss is massive to us.

“More importantly, we can’t afford to lose this dispute.”

Meanwhile, senior lecturer in economics Dr Sara Stevano, 36, said: “I was faced with a deduction of £1,800, basically one third of my monthly income, for not completing 4 per cent of my workload – it was very upsetting.”

The marking boycott is the latest phase in UCU industrial action at 145 universities across the UK, with staff refusing to mark dissertations, final papers, and exams unless their pay demands are met.

Some students have been left fearing they will be unable to graduate on time, while others could see their dissertations go unread if marks are awarded based on past performance.

SOAS is the first university to implement the policy, although three other universities – Dundee, Winchester and Sheffield Hallam – have also threatened academic staff with 100 per cent pay deductions.

Dr David Lunn, the outgoing SOAS branch secretary for UCU, said the pay deductions were unlikely to bring an amicable resolution any closer.

He 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.”

The decision to pursue dramatic pay deductions led staff to wage all-out strike action, which commenced last Wednesday.

Dr Stevano said: “It is de facto more convenient to be on strike than on action short of strike because when we are on strike, we are not deducted weekend pay and pension contributions.”

Dr Mayur Suresh, 42, senior lecturer in law at SOAS, said: “They have shot themselves in the foot as a scorched-earth tactic to bust the union.

“By ramping up tensions, they have radicalised the union body. I’ve never seen this much anger amongst my colleagues before.”

Speaking at a picket last week, former shadow chancellor John McDonnell said: “I actually am ashamed of any association with SOAS now that they’ve taken the decision on 100 per cent cuts. I’ve worked with various SOAS projects over the years and maybe I’ve been naive, I just didn’t expect it.”

A SOAS spokesperson told i: “In response to the cost-of-living crisis, SOAS implemented the largest pay offer made to higher education staff in 20 years and has brought pay rises forward to give staff the extra support they need now.

“We remain committed to doing everything we can to support our staff, while operating within our finances and continuing to provide world-class education to our students.

“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.”

Additional reporting by Press Association

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