Local disputes escalate as relations deteriorate

May 13, 2005

Lecturers' unions this week reported "unprecedented" developments in two local disputes.

Natfhe this week confirmed plans for a week-long strike at London Metropolitan University - the longest ever period of continuous strike action the union has taken, according to head of universities' Roger Kline.

The Association of University Teachers, meanwhile, accused Brunel University of "unheard of" antagonism towards its staff by threatening to dock an entire day's pay for every day that any staff participated in industrial action, even though they were fulfilling the majority of their duties.

At London Met, where a dispute over the imposition of new contracts has lasted more than a year, Natfhe said it would time its strike action to coincide with the university's first audit by the Quality Assurance Agency, which is scheduled for May 16.

A London Met representative predicted that the QAA audit would run smoothly, but said the union's attempt to interfere with a statutory obligation showed it was "completely out of control".

The AUT is in the third week of action short of a strike at Brunel. As part of the protest, which was sparked by plans to make up to 60 academics redundant, staff are refusing to invigilate student examinations or to mark work.

Sally Hunt, AUT general secretary, said that the university was "fuelling the dispute further" by docking pay.

Matt Waddup, the deputy general secretary of the AUT, said that docking pay when staff were in work and performing most of their duties was "unheard of" in his 15 years of trade unionism.

A spokeswoman for Brunel said that the university was following "standard industrial relations practice". She also denied AUT claims that its action short of a strike was having a serious impact on university activities. She said claims that "students" were being forced to invigilate exams were disingenuous, as it was routine for PhDs, not undergraduates, to invigilate.

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