The first of three two-hour stoppages over this year’s 1 per cent pay offer is due to take on 23 January at 11am, with further strikes scheduled for 28 January and 10 February.
But at least 11 higher education institutions have told union members that they will withhold a full day’s pay for anyone taking part in the Thursday morning walk-out, the University and College Union says.
UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said that any institution taking this line will face a legal challenge from the union.
Withholding a full day’s pay would also lead to an “escalation of strike action”, as well as “risking considerable damage to their reputation for fair play”, she added.
Union members may also decide to walk out for a full day if their employer was docking them for the whole day, Ms Hunt said.
“Perversely, any universities that do dock a full day’s pay will ensure far greater disruption for their students, which suggests the approach has nothing to do with the welfare of staff or students and is based around penny-pinching and bullying,” she added.
The latest round of industrial action follows two one-day strikes in October and December last year, with union members currently “working to contract” by refusing to take on extra hours beyond those stipulated in contracts.
Institutions have refused to improve the 1 per cent pay offer, which many institutions have already implemented, with the Universities and Colleges Employers’ Association saying further rises are “neither affordable nor sustainable”.
However, UCU has said the 1 per cent offer is “measly” and an improved deal is needed following four successive below-inflation rises, which have eroded pay in real terms by 13 per cent since 2009.
It also points to record surpluses enjoyed by universities in the wake of the introduction of higher fees in 2012, though employers claim this cash is needed to improve university estates following the removal of infrastructure funding from the government.
A spokesman for Ucea insisted universities are entitled to withhold a full day’s pay if staff do not work normally as it would constitute “partial performance”.
“Higher education institutions do not accept partial performance and many will be deducting a full day’s pay in order to limit the impact on their students,” he said.
“Unions are fully aware of the employers’ consistent position regarding withholding pay for partial performance,” he added, saying a “significant number” are doing so this week.
“Higher education institutions are dismayed that this form of industrial action has been designed to damage students’ education but will do their very best to protect their students,” he added.