In a letter to members at York, the University and College Union branch condemned the university’s plans to withhold 100 per cent of pay from those who take part in an assessment boycott, due to start on 6 November.
“This is not imposing some sort of proportionate penalty, but a piece of blatant bullying designed to scare us out of taking action,” said the letter.
It also criticised York’s “excessive and bullying response” to industrial action, saying the threatened deduction is an “aggressive break with best practice”, and called York the “most hawkish [university] in the UK”.
Staff at 69 universities are due to take part in an assessment boycott from 6 November in protest over proposals to reduce benefits in the Universities Superannuation Scheme.
York is believed to be the first university to tell staff that it will withhold pay from those taking part in the action – raising the prospect that the action could escalate into a full-blown strike.
“Members at York now need to decide whether or not our best response to this intimidation will be to withdraw 100 per cent of the labour for which we are not going to be paid,” said the UCU branch.
A York spokesman said the university will withhold pay because “we will make every effort to ensure that students are not adversely affected by the situation”.
The spokesman added that “as a gesture of goodwill, we will continue to make employers’ [pension] contributions for those staff participating in industrial action”. Any pay withheld from staff, he said, “will be used to support student causes”.
York’s spokesman also said the university was “very disappointed that the UCU has chosen to take industrial action just as the national negotiations are getting underway”. National negotiators are due to meet on 7 November.
He continued that the action “will not change the university’s position with regard to those negotiations – we encourage both sides to address this issue at the negotiating table and to identify a way forward which addresses the enormous deficit in the USS while ensuring that staff can access attractive pensions when they retire”.
A spokesman from the UCU’s national office said: “Bullying staff over such a sensitive issue will create problems that will last for years, and institutions should drop the macho posturing and work with us to resolve the dispute.”