New strike ballot at Queen Mary over ‘brutal’ pay deductions

University refuses to pay staff who have returned to work until they reschedule lectures lost to last round of walkouts

March 3, 2022
France House, Queen Mary University of London, Mile End Campus
Source: iStock

Union members at a London university are being balloted on further strike action over the institution’s refusal to pay staff unless they reschedule classes missed during the latest round of walkouts.

Members of the University and College Union returned to work at Queen Mary University of London on 3 March after 10 days on the picket lines in disputes over pay, pensions and working conditions.

But managers have said that strikers will continue to be docked 100 per cent of their pay until they reschedule classes cancelled due to industrial action and put related teaching materials online.

Union members have voted in favour of action short of a strike, under which the union says they should not reschedule lost lectures.

And while several other universities have threatened to dock 100 per cent of pay for what they regard as partial performance – including City University of London and Bristol, Manchester Metropolitan and Newcastle universities – UCU said that Queen Mary was the first to put the policy into action.

The union said that rescheduling 10 days of classes was not possible within the university timetable and accused mangers of forcing staff to effectively break their own strikes.

The ballot for further strike action opened this week and closes on 21 March, with walkouts potentially coming as soon as next month.

Jo Grady, UCU’s general secretary, said that Queen Mary’s position “has nothing to do with helping students and everything to do with intimidating staff”.

“Management at Queen Mary are deducting 100 per cent of pay for staff who have returned to work in an effort to effectively starve them into submission,” she said.

“It is a brutal, heavy-handed way to treat staff and the university’s leadership should be ashamed.”

Dozens of external examiners have already resigned from their roles with Queen Mary in protest at the university’s position.

A Queen Mary spokesman said that the university had asked returning staff to “to prioritise education activities above other contractual activities”.

“We are not making pay deductions where staff reasonably agree to carry out, during normal working hours, their contractual duties in terms of all education activities, whilst accepting that other activities may not be carried out,” the spokesman said.

“A failure to prioritise educational activities, including making up missed education within a reasonable timescale amounts to a breach of contract and partial performance, and therefore in these cases 100 per cent of pay will be deducted.”

The Universities and College Employers Association has insisted that universities are legally entitled to withhold full pay for partial performance.

But Dr Grady said that the new strike ballot should be “a warning to university bosses across the UK: try to emulate Queen Mary and you too will face strike ballots and further disruption”.

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