Leaders of six campus trade unions have accused employers of planning to scrap the London weighting pay allowance, and are threatening a shut-down of the capital's universities in protest.
In a joint statement issued on the eve of national pay talks this week, lecturers' union Natfhe, the Association of University Teachers, along with Unison, the T&G, Amicus and the GMB said they were "seething over employers' plans to ditch London weighting".
They said if the allowance was scrapped, or if "concrete proposals" to improve London pay were not produced by August, they would resume a joint campaign of industrial action that shut down universities and hit London's 300,000 students in 2003.
The six unions said in a statement: "The trade unions are seeking... a London allowance equal to the best available in the public sector". London police officers get £6,219, compared with £2,634 for inner-London lecturers.
Jocelyn Prudence, head of the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association, said there were "no formal plans" to scrap the allowance but conceded that "some" universities wanted to "roll it up" into their general pay arrangements.
After the 2003 strikes, employers and unions set up the London Weighting Consortium to review the London allowance and to develop proposals for the future.
This week's statement from the unions said: "Despite over two years of detailed research, highlighting the need to improve levels of London weighting, Ucea has yet to provide any proposals for improving the pay of London's university staff. Now unions have learned that Ucea has suggested that the existing allowance be phased out."
Ucea stressed that a report by Incomes Data Services published in August 2004 found that universities were using a number of different "pay premia" to reflect the higher living costs in the capital, not just the London weighting allowance. These include golden hellos, higher starting salaries, accelerated career progression, train and Tube travelcard loans and childcare support. It said that many organisations, both public and private, had moved to replace or supplement flat-rate London allowances over the past decade and that universities needed to review their arrangements.
Ms Prudence said that an annual uplift to the London weighting will form part of this year's national pay talks as normal. But the consortium was separately examining options for the future and "there doesn't seem to be a one-size-fits-all solution".