Short weeks or unpaid leave proposed to reduce wage bill

Union calls for job protection as Sheffield moots potential cost-cutting moves. John Morgan reports

March 4, 2010

Staff at the University of Sheffield may be asked to take unpaid sabbaticals or accept a shorter working week and a pay cut under plans drawn up to cope with the reduction in higher education funding.

The university has compiled a list of 13 options to save money on staff costs in 2010-11.

Its proposals will be of particular interest to the sector as Keith Burnett, Sheffield's vice-chancellor, is also chairman of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, which is responsible for national bargaining with unions on pay and conditions.

Sheffield's option for staff to work a "four-and-a-half day week for a year", offers the biggest potential saving: it would cut the university's wage bill by about £22 million.

"Internal staff will see (an) 8-9 per cent reduction in net pay," the document says. For example, a £30,000 gross salary would be cut by about £3,000 gross, or about £2,000 net.

Another option under consideration is "no pay award in August 2010" which would save £4.4 million. Alternatively, "three, six or 12-month unpaid sabbaticals" have been mooted, although the document does not predict the likely savings.

"Taking four weeks' unpaid annual leave" - which would amount to a cut of about 6.5-7 per cent in net pay - would save Sheffield about £7.3 million if 50 per cent of staff accepted it.

The final option listed is "compulsory redundancies", with a saving of £1.85 million.

Mike Robinson, national education officer for Unite, said the measures could not be imposed by the university and would need "major co-operation from trade unions".

Michael MacNeil, national head of higher education at the University and College Union, said: "UCU has long argued that there must be an early dialogue to explore appropriate ways of promoting job security ... However, let's be clear - what is being proposed at Sheffield would certainly not set a national precedent.

"Only a jointly agreed line could do that and we urge the national employers to start talking to us about a national solution to a national problem."

Jon Richards, Unison's senior national officer for education, said that measures such as a pay freeze would be opposed if they were proposed at a national level.

A Sheffield spokesman said that the university was preparing for future cuts in income "like all UK higher education institutions".

On staff savings, he said the university had "no agreed target figure and ... has made no formal proposals or decisions at this time".

"In order to inform preliminary discussions with local trade unions, and with a desire to work in partnership with them from the earliest possible stage, the university shared in confidence potential savings that may be achieved via a range of different and fairly common approaches."

He added: "The discussions being held in Sheffield are not the national view of Ucea."

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