Union clashes with managers over pay deductions ahead of strike

Universities legally entitled to make deductions, but UCU attacks ‘unfair and unprofessional response’

February 10, 2022
Source: Simon Baker

Union branches are locked in increasingly acrimonious disputes with managers over pay deductions ahead of the next round of UK sector strike action next week.

Ten days of walkouts affecting 68 campuses are set to begin on 14 February in long-running rows over pensions, pay and working conditions.

In addition to docking pay for strike days, several universities are proposing to deduct up to 100 per cent of salary for instances in which members take action short of a strike.

Members of affected University and College Union branches have an ongoing mandate for action short of a strike, including working to contract, but the issue is likely to come to a head alongside the walkouts when staff refuse to reschedule cancelled lectures or classes.

Institutions are legally entitled to make these deductions, but the UCU claimed that it was “a deeply unfair and unprofessional response” that was likely to lead to further strikes.

It represents a shift from the three-day walkout on 58 campuses in December, when the union advised members that they could reschedule cancelled lectures.

The union said it was aware of six institutions that had threatened to withdraw 100 per cent of pay for staff taking part in action short of a strike: the universities of Bristol and Bradford, Manchester Metropolitan and Newcastle universities, City, University of London, and Queen Mary University of London.

According to the UCU, the University of Birmingham had said it would deduct 50 per cent of pay for staff who refuse to reschedule classes lost to strike action. The University of Leicester has said it will dock a third, while deductions could also be made by Northumbria University.

Durham University said it would withhold 25 per cent of staff pay if materials not shared because of strike action were not available to students by 7 March, with deductions potentially rising to 100 per cent, according to the union.

But the UCU claimed a victory when the University of Cambridge stepped back from plans to deduct 25 per cent of wages from staff who refused to reschedule lost lectures.

Jo Grady, the UCU’s general secretary, claimed that managers were “trying to intimidate staff from taking lawful industrial action by withholding their wages”.

“This is a deeply unfair and unprofessional response from management which will only escalate and prolong these disputes,” Dr Grady said.

“As well as challenging partial deductions, we are also warning senior management that withholding 100 per cent of pay is tantamount to a lockout and that staff will be within their rights to respond by calling more strike action.”

The five-day walkout getting under way next week focuses on the dispute over cuts to Universities Superannuation Scheme pensions and will affect 44 institutions.

Branches that have a mandate for action on pay and working conditions only will join the walkout on 21 and 22 February, meaning that staff at all 68 institutions will be on the picket line.

The final three days of action, on the pay and working conditions dispute only, will run from 28 February to 2 March, affecting 63 universities.

Raj Jethwa, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, said his members “have a duty to their students”.

“As such, they reject partial performance and – as UCU knows – they are legally entitled to withhold full pay or, at their discretion, a lesser amount for partial performance of duties,” Mr Jethwa said.

“This is a disappointing response from UCU and will be of concern to students already facing disruption from UCU’s latest action.”

chris.havergal@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

It’s a real pity that we seem to have a generation of senior managers in the pre-92 universities who think in such a short term manner that they are resorting to bullying staff (never a wise move in a professional environment where interpersonal relations are key and remain so long after disputes are resolved) rather than focusing on the long-term future of the institutions over which they are currently custodians. I’m astonished by the apparent arrogance which assumes that a massive pension cut will have no impact on the status quo. We have in the UK a university sector (the former polytechnics, post-92 institutions) which predominantly uses the Teachers’ Pension Scheme, a scheme not subject to threats of the type currently facing the USS. In the medium term a much worse USS scheme will see the most talented of the next (and some current) generation of academics taking up posts in the post-92 sector in preference to the pre-92 sector. I have no problem with this, having worked in both sectors, but I’m surprised that a supposedly elite group of pre-92 managers think that trying to bully staff back to work, while they preside over the future diminution of the institutions they were employed to protect, in any way presents as wise management or sound leadership.

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