SOAS University accused of wage theft

SOAS University accused of wage theft
Senate House, Administration Hub of University of London.

This morning a number of tweets from staff at the University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), have reported that up to £2 000 worth of wages have been stolen by their employers. Dr Nimer Sultany, a senior Professor at the School of Law, has shown that employers have cited legal strike action (10 days in total across April) as reason to take the owed money, despite not actually taking any strike action. However, some have staff have taken action and refused to mark some students work, though this constitutes a low portion of their workload, they have still been marked as striking by SOAS.  Dr Sultany has indicated that of the 10 days cited, 4 were on the weekend, days where he was not required to work at all. Whilst this can be seen in isolation, originating at SOAS, it is part of a far wider dispute between University workers and their employers. The past 6 years have been marred by strikes as lecturers across the country attempt to improve difficult conditions. The University and College Union has been fighting for an improvement in the realities of employment for its members for some time now, citing numerous issues relating to pay and working conditions such as:


  • Pay increases of at least inflation plus 2% 
  • Reverse in reduction of pension benefits
  • Nationally agreed action to close gender, ethnic and disability pay gaps 
  • Framework to eliminate precarious contracts (including zero-hour contracts) 
  • Addressing excessive workloads 


The discontent to which lecturers have been met with by institutions has also been criticised by students. With fees at £9 250 per year, students have expressed anger at institutions for maintaining high tuition rates whilst their education is hugely disrupted by strikes that could have been prevented by providing reasonable conditions for educators. The Student Group Claim, alongside the method of teaching during COVID, has cited this in it’s recent litigation processes to reimburse students some of the money paid. 


The right to strike is a fundamental human right, recognised by numerous global insitutions and unions, and is foundational in any cogent labour law. The act of punishing employees for participating in legal strike action indicates the possibilities of a worrying descent into forced labour, particularly when they have not actually engaged in striking. Through leveraging the possibility of wage theft, people could be forced into working in poor conditions in order to pay rent, afford food and merely to survive with no alternatives to dispute. Britain is a signatory of the 1930 Forced Labour Convention, which dictates that “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself voluntarily” constitutes forced labour. impACT International posits that threatening the withholding of owed wages or explicitly stealing the wages of employees is in clear violation of this Convention. Any attempts to punish workers for expressing legal and reasonable discontent with working conditions is clearly an attempt to force employees to work. At a time of difficult economic conditions, such as the so-called ‘cost of living crisis’, the theft of wages could have an exorbitant impact on the lives of employees and must be prevented. 


This also comes at a time in Britain where there have been worrying trends in relation to expressing dissent and protest. Alongside the draconian Public Order Act 2023, which has been discussed already by impACT, the Conservative Government in Britain is now in the final stages of introducing the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill into law. The bill is sponsored by Conservative MP Grant Shapps, who has introduced the bill under the guise of protecting consumers, whilst in reality it is likely to increase the commonality of wage theft, such as we have seen at SOAS University. It stipulates that employees must provide a base level of service whilst going on strike, thus nullifying the most basic notion of striking; disruption in service. The purpose of this bill should be seen for what it is, to create conditions in Britain whereby striking is a toothless expression of discontent that can largely be ignored by employers whilst profits are minutely impacted.


impACT International, firstly, suggests that SOAS return the stolen wages from it’s employees. If this demand is not met, impACT International would wholly welcome any legal action brought forth by those affected. Secondly, we implore Mr Sunak, who has referenced the importance of law and order frequently in his premiership, to reverse the aforementioned bill in order to prevent further wage theft in the future. 



Oliver Wood


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