Boycott staff face 'punitive' levies

July 29, 2005

Lecturers who took part in an industrial dispute at London Metropolitan University have been told they will lose up to 80 per cent of their salaries for more than two months.

The news came as a 15-month dispute over the imposition of new contracts was settled this week when lecturers' union Natfhe and the university announced that they had reached agreement.

A joint statement said that two days of "intense but congenial" talks at the conciliation service Acas had produced a revised contract that would be recommended to Natfhe's members and London Met's board.

The breakthrough was soured, however, by the pay deductions, attacked as an unprecedented attempt to "punish" staff who had engaged in lawful industrial action.

The union said that the deductions could leave staff unable to meet mortgage commitments and, in some cases, without money for basic subsistence.

"Members are utterly outraged," said Roger Kline, head of universities at Natfhe. "We are still talking to Acas to stop these deductions, and we don't want to say anything else while these talks are taking place."

The union estimates that "hundreds" of members have been carrying out a marking and assessment boycott at London Met.

The lecturers have withheld this year's final degree results in protest against moves by the vice-chancellor, Brian Roper, to impose a new contract on staff of the former Guildhall University, which merged in 2002 with North London University to form London Met.

One Natfhe source said that although the action had now been called off, the pay deductions would "do nothing to ensure the delivery of marks or to build good industrial relations".

He added that the union was taking "urgent legal advice" over the deductions.

Lyn Link, London Met's human resources director, tells Natfhe members in a letter dated July 20 that the boycott is "a breach of contract", adding that it has had a "serious effect on the running of the university and, in particular, the welfare of our students".

She says lecturers who have taken part in the industrial action or who have not declared to managers that they are working normally will be hit with retrospective deductions with effect from May 23.

In the letter - seen by The Times Higher - Ms Link says that the university will deduct 80 per cent of the weekly salary for the last two weeks of May, and amounts ranging from 80 per cent to 50 per cent a week will be deducted for all of June and July.

London Met would not confirm the figures. It said it was "currently in talks with Natfhe regarding the level of pay reduction for partial performance".

The latest row belies the joint statement on the contract deal - that both parties hoped the agreement would be "part of a new start in relations".

Sources at Natfhe said the contract was close to the national contract in place across the new university sector, adding that it had addressed almost all the union's main concerns.

But union sources were alarmed by the university's aggressive stance and feared that it might set a precedent for what is expected to be a landmark year in industrial relations.

By next spring, a new "super-union", formed by the merger of Natfhe and the Association of University Teachers - expected to be called the Universities and Colleges Union - is likely to be fully functioning.

The 100,000-strong union will be formed just before the deadline for universities to implement the historic 2004 reform of pay and career structures. It will be operating in time to be part of the pay negotiations for 2006-07 - the first year that top-up tuition fees will be in place.

phil.baty@thes.co.uk

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