The London School of Economics could be challenged under equal pay laws over a new career structure that unions say has left researchers in effect demoted compared with teaching staff.
The dispute over the LSE’s plan to move teaching staff to a new career structure stretches back to last year. But unions have now told the university that a resolution has not been possible, meaning that strike or legal action could now be on the table.
Since the beginning of the 2013-14 year, teaching staff have had the opportunity to become an associate, an assistant or a full professor, which replaced the title of lecturer. But no equivalent structure has been brought in for researchers.
In a letter to Craig Calhoun, the LSE’s director, representatives of Unison, Unite and the University and College Union claim that the lack of an equivalent new structure for research staff means that they have suffered a “de facto demotion”.
“Research staff are now paid considerably less than teaching-and-research staff to perform equivalent work,” says the letter, which was sent on 16 July.
Pat McGovern, chair of the LSE’s UCU branch, told Times Higher Education that this could open the university up to equal pay claims because women are more heavily represented among research staff than among teaching staff. There is a “marked difference between [the proportion of] women and men in teaching versus research”, he said.
“The general agreement among universities is that all jobs in teaching and research are graded and put on equivalent scales,” he added. “If you break that, then you are more open to claims of pay discrimination.”
Both strike action and a legal challenge were now possibilities, he said.
The letter from the unions says that they had proposed an equivalent career structure for researchers, but this had been rejected by the university.
An LSE spokesman said that negotiations over a career structure for research staff were “ongoing”.
“The school continues to take submissions on this issue and is carefully listening to the concerns raised by the unions and individual members of staff,” he said. “We look forward to reaching a positive outcome, which takes into account staff concerns, within the next academic term.”