A bitter dispute between university staff and their employers looks set to escalate after it emerged university bosses have been advised to dock 100% of pay for staff who work to rule as part of industrial action that begins next week.
More than 1 million students at 68 UK universities are to be hit by further strike action by members of the University and College Union (UCU), with up to 10 days of campus walkouts starting on Monday as part of a long-running dispute over pensions, pay and conditions.
UCU members also have a mandate to take action short of a strike including working to contract, not covering for absent colleagues, not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action and refusing to do voluntary activities.
In the event of such action, however, the Universities and Colleges Employers’ Association has recommended that universities should withhold full pay for what it describes as “partial performance of duties”. It is up to individual institutions to decide but the UCU has warned of more strike action if universities go ahead with “punitive” deductions.
Raj Jethwa, UCEA’s chief executive, told a briefing on Thursday: “[Universities] are not only entitled [to withhold full pay], we think they are compelled do so. The legal position is pretty robust, but beyond that we think the moral position of employers is robust as well.”
He said students, who have already endured two years of disruption due to Covid and other factors, would suffer further as a result of the action and universities needed to protect the student experience.
So far the number of universities adopting the UCEA recommendation appears to be small. According to the union six universities have threatened to withhold full pay over action short of a strike, while others are warning of deductions of 25%, 33% or 50%.
The union says Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), City University of London, Manchester Metropolitan University, Newcastle University, the University of Bristol, and the University of Bradford have all threatened to withdraw 100% of pay for action short of a strike.
The UCU general secretary, Jo Grady, accused university bosses of trying to intimidate staff to stop them taking lawful industrial action. “This is a deeply unfair and unprofessional response from management which will only escalate and prolong these disputes.
“As well as challenging partial deductions, we are also warning senior management that withholding 100% of pay is tantamount to a lockout and that staff will be within their rights to respond by calling more strike action.”