Essex changes tack on strike pay row

V-c acknowledges ‘agonising’ decision faced by staff over two-hour walkout

January 22, 2014

The University of Essex has rescinded its threat to withhold an entire day’s pay for anyone taking part in a two-hour strike, though many more are set to adopt a harder line on deductions.

Essex was one of several higher education institutions to inform its staff that any University and College Union member taking part in a two-hour stoppage over this year’s 1 per cent pay offer on 23 January – the first of three planned walk-outs – would lose a full day’s pay.

That follows advice from the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, which said institutions are entitled to withhold a full day’s pay because any walk-out would constitute “partial performance” for the day – a legal view disputed by UCU.

About 25 higher education institutions are threatening to withhold a full day’s pay for tomorrow morning’s walkout, Times Higher Education understands.

However, in a letter to staff, Essex vice-chancellor Anthony Forster said he had changed his mind over the deductions after learning that the UCU intended to hold further day-long strikes if a whole day’s pay was withheld – a move that, he believed, would cause further, unnecessary, disruption to students.

“I have had to reflect on whether we would be fulfilling our commitment to putting students at the heart of our thinking by deducting a whole day’s pay,” Professor Forster said.

“My colleagues on [the university steering group] and I have concluded that we would not,” he added.

In his email, Professor Forster said he recognised that staff did not want to cause disruptions to students, and that their commitment to the union had created “a set of agonising decisions” for staff.

“I know how long and hard colleagues will have thought about taking industrial action,” he said.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt welcomed Essex’s change of strategy and urged other institutions to follow suit, saying they should “spend more time trying to resolve the dispute and less trying to play macho games”.

“It is good that the vice-chancellor at Essex has recognised that punitive pay docking not only makes staff even angrier, but it also increases disruption for students,” Ms Hunt said.

“The baffling behaviour of some vice-chancellors to threaten to lock staff out and therefore increase disruption has more in common with 1930s Chicago than modern industrial relations,” she added.

jack.grove@tsleducation.com

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