Union leaders hope that the complexities of calculating how much pay to dock from boycotting academics may prove too much for managers after an administrative bungle by Bradford University meant that striking staff were paid while those who showed up for work were penalised.
Bradford this week confirmed that it had not only failed to dock a day's pay from members of the Association of University Teachers who took part in the strike on March 7, it had also accidentally withheld pay from staff who worked normally.
A university spokesman admitted that there had been a "mix-up". He said:
"There was a situation where some non-union members had pay deducted wrongly because it wasn't made clear who exactly the absent members of staff were. This situation will be remedied in the April pay run."
The AUT said that Bradford's "cock-up" demonstrated the difficulty vice-chancellors faced in fulfilling their threats to dock pay.
It is standard practice to withhold a day's pay for a day's strike, but many vice-chancellors have warned that they will dock part of a day's pay from anyone carrying out only some of their contracted duties.
The difficulty is in deciding how much to dock. This can be calculated accurately only if universities know exactly who has been boycotting and to what extent.
Sally Hunt, the AUT's general secretary, said: "The events at Bradford show how difficult the process of pay docking is.
"Universities should be spending more time negotiating and less time trying to devise schemes to penalise staff who are taking part in lawful industrial action."
Meanwhile, Bradford's director of human resources this week warned staff that the university's previous promise not to withhold pay for the action short of a strike, was to be reviewed.