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GTAs at King's College London win 20% pay rise

19 September 2016 | last updated: 12 July 2018

Following an 18-month long campaign at King's College London, Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) at the university have won a 20% pay increase for marking, among other concessions.

Like many universities, King's College London is heavily reliant on GTAs, a manifestation of the general level of casualization in the HE sector, in which over 60% of workers are 'partially' employed.

Inspired by the Fractionals for Fair Pay group at SOAS, student teachers at King's College London launched a campaign of their own in 2015, beginning with a survey of over 400 GTAs, which found that 96% of King's GTAs regularly work overtime for nothing.

This survey (which was covered in the Times Higher Education supplement) was followed by threats of marking boycott in 2016, with GTAs refusing to mark coursework and summer exams until they were paid fairly.

Under pressure from the campaign, which received joint support from the local UCU branch and student union (with a further motion of solidarity from Unison), King's management acquiesced to the following concessions:

  • 20% increase in pay for essay marking (from 5000 words per hour to 4000).
  • Double pay for preparation time (from a 1:1 ratio with teaching hours to 2:1).
  • The establishment of an elected representational body for GTAs, with the right to send representatives to senior staff and management meetings to discuss issues relating to casual staff.
  • Improvements to GTAs' training, with a greater emphasis on best practice for marking and teaching.

Despite falling short of the campaign's original demands, this offer is still a significant victory. Joe Attard, Film Studies GTA and member of the UCU local executive at King's College London argued that the campaign's success demonstrates the value of direct action and cross-union support in pay disputes.

"We weren't taken seriously until we combined the reputational damage from the survey with the threat of a marking boycott.," he said. "It was only then, and with the urging of three separate unions, that we were invited to the negotiation table."

"I'm very clear on College's dismissive attitude of casuals. At one stage, they were trying to rebrand us as 'apprentices' - despite the fact we receive very minimal training (none of it paid). However, the fact is that the rampant casualization they've invited is their undoing: they can't do without us, which is what made the assertive approach so effective."

Campaigners pledge that these gains will be built upon in coming months, involving other casual staff (such as teaching fellows and hourly-paid lecturers) as well as extending support to exploited casuals at other universities.