Union members at the University of Salford are the latest to vote to strike in response to management’s decision to dock 100 per cent of the pay of employees participating in a marking boycott.
Meanwhile, lecturers at the University of Ulster have asked for their institution to be “grey-listed” by the union because of its decision to deduct full pay. If authorised, it would amount to an academic boycott under which union members would refuse to give lectures, attend conferences or apply for positions at the university.
Salford, Bradford and Liverpool are among at least 10 institutions across the UK that have decided to dock 100 per cent of salary from lecturers taking part in the boycott, which began on 6 November as an escalation of the dispute over proposed reforms to pre-1992 university pensions.
Bernie Maguire, president of the Salford UCU branch, said he could not understand why his institution was taking such a “hard-line” stance when other universities had decided not to dock pay at this stage, or to deduct only a proportion of salary.
“We feel that the management response has been completely over the top and we have to respond in kind,” said Mr Maguire. “For members all over the country, this is one issue that is really making people angry.”
A Salford spokesman said the university was “extremely disappointed” by the vote for strike action, stating that the institution had planned to deduct full pay only for each day that a staff member boycotted an assessment. The deduction would, by default, become continuous in the event of a strike.
“Whilst we do not accept partial performance of any contract, we believe the position we have taken on pay is proportionate and reasonable,” the spokesman said.
Linda Moore, president of the Ulster UCU branch, said members had felt they had little choice other than to proceed with the grey-listing request.
“Members are aware that grey-listing is a serious action which could potentially harm the reputation of the university, but we cannot stand by and let our members face these sorts of anti-union and bullying tactics,” said Dr Moore.
“Members have not voted to take strike action at this stage, but the issue will be revisited should the university fail to withdraw its threat.”
In a separate development, two law professors claim that “at least three” universities were considering suing academics taking part in the academic boycott for breach of contract.
Alan Bogg, professor of labour law at the University of Oxford, and Keith Ewing, professor of public law at King’s College London, write in a blog post that they suspect this is an “empty threat, designed to intimidate individuals and discourage them by spreading fear”.
If the threat was carried out, it may well be found to be a breach of workers’ human rights, the professors say.
“Bullying individual strikers for breach of contract is petty, short-sighted and inflammatory,” they add.
Negotiators from the UCU were due to meet representatives from Universities UK on 13 November in the hope of making progress in the pensions dispute.
The first sign of a potential thaw has emerged with the UCU putting forward proposals that accept the end of the final salary scheme, but significant distance is thought to remain between the two sides on other issues.