Plans for a national ballot on last week's pay offer could be knocked off course by local disputes over the return of docked wages, write Tony Tysome and Phil Baty.
Although it is official policy of the University and College Union not to strike any national deal without a clear promise from vice-chancellors to return docked pay, the agreement reached by the union and employers last week contains no such commitment.
Despite this, the UCU agreed to call off the exam-marking boycott and to put the offer of 13.1 per cent over three years to members.
It emerged this week that the University of Central Lancashire is refusing to return about £40,000 in pay docked from about 200 union members.
There are also concerns about the return of pay at Derby University and at Canterbury Christchurch University College.
About 150 UCLan staff backed a local UCU branch motion this week threatening a return to industrial action. It called on the UCU's national leaders to postpone the national vote on the pay deal until UCLan agreed to reimburse money docked in May.
Alan Roff, UCLan's deputy vice-chancellor, confirmed that the university would retain pay docked in May and said that pay docked since June 1 had been reimbursed. He said: "Uclan is committed to abide by the terms of the national agreement... UCU officers assure us that they are trying to persuade members to return to normal working."
Andy Pike, UCU senior national official, said: "We will not let this matter rest. The clear message is that further industrial action will be taken until an agreement is reached." He said the union would "consider" the call to postpone the ballot.
Motions passed just weeks ago by both the former AUT and Natfhe national policy-making conferences state that the pay dispute will not be settled unless all docked pay is returned. A UCU spokesperson said: "If universities insist on holding back the money this may lead to further industrial action."
The UCU said it feared that Canterbury Christchurch would not return pay docked from about 14 members.
At Derby, John Coyne, the vice-chancellor, would not confirm the university's decision. He said: "The university makes decisions on salary matters, not the union."