University of Liverpool UCU vote to strike over pay threat

Action follows management decision to withhold pay from academics taking part in marking boycott

November 11, 2014

Union members at the University of Liverpool have voted to strike in response to the management’s decision to dock 100 per cent of the salary of employees participating in a marking boycott.

The strike, which would continue until the decision is rescinded, is the latest escalation of the dispute between institutions and staff which centres on proposed pension reforms.

At least eight institutions across the UK have now announced plans to deduct full pay from lecturers taking part in the boycott, which began on November 6.

A spokeswoman for the Liverpool branch of the University and College Union accused management of announcing their decision on pay in an “aggressively worded” email which “included threats to discipline members and make them personally liable for any damages awarded in claims made against the institution in relation to the industrial action”.

“This hard-line stance has caused real anger across the university,” the spokeswoman told Times Higher Education. “Not only is this an insult to staff here in Liverpool but it is a threat to the national union’s ability to use ASOS [action short of a strike] in the future. We also know that, if the University of Liverpool is allowed to get away with this kind of behaviour, that it will become a norm across the sector.”

The branch spokeswoman said the result of the vote was “overwhelming”, with no votes against and only one abstention.

The issue will now be considered by UCU headquarters, with the spokeswoman saying that authorisation to strike was expected to be “forthcoming”. With seven days’ notice required for a strike, the action is expected to begin towards the end of next week or early the following week.

The branch spokeswoman added: “The threats to our pensions are so vicious that action has to be taken. The University of Liverpool appears to be acting unreasonably and completely out of line with the rest of the HE sector.”

A Liverpool spokeswoman said the institution recognised the situation was “difficult for all concerned” but said the university was “disappointed” by the plan for further industrial action.

“We are committed to a nationally negotiated settlement…but we feel that this local action is premature and very damaging,” the spokeswoman said.

“The university does not accept the partial performance of any contract. The UCU’s marking boycott affects the very basis of the contract of employment, including fundamental duties of those staff involved in teaching.  

“If staff do not deliver assessments or meet marking deadlines this will seriously impact on students. The university therefore intends to deduct 100 per cent of pay for those taking part in industrial action.”

The spokeswoman added: “Our lines of communication with the UCU remain open.”

Action short of a strike at pre-92 institutions was backed by 87 per cent of voters in a nationwide UCU ballot triggered by the failure to reach agreement over proposed reforms to the Universities Superannuation Scheme.

UCU said it believed that other institutions withholding full pay from staff taking part in the boycott were Queen’s University Belfast, the University of East Anglia, the University of Surrey, Ulster University, University Campus Suffolk and University of Wales Trinity Saint David.

The University of York had announced that it would deduct full pay, but has since agreed to review that decision.

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