Universities looking to exploit the law to withhold large sums of money from staff involved in industrial action are storing up problems for the future and could prolong strike action, the University and College Union (UCU) warned today (Thursday).
Staff at 61 universities returned to work this morning after five days of strike action. University staff are now undertaking action short of a strike (ASOS), which consists of working to contract, not covering for absent colleagues, not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action and not undertaking any voluntary activities.
Some universities have told staff that they will withhold their entire pay for ASOS. UCU said universities imposing overly punitive measures would annoy members and do nothing to help progress talks due to begin on Monday.
The University of Sheffield has said if staff have not rescheduled missed lectures within two days it will deduct 25% of their salary and after five days it will withhold 100% of salary. The University of St Andrews University has said it will deduct 100% of salary for any form of action short of a strike.
The University of Kent has said it will withhold 50% of pay for ASOS, but reserves the right to withhold 100% and any work staff then undertake would be voluntary. Kent is also under fire for “punishing its most vulnerable employees the harshest” after a graduate teaching assistant exposed on Twitter how the university was withholding almost double his monthly salary for his support of the strike action.
However, some universities have recognised the dispute is now at a crucial stage and have rowed back from a previous hostile position. The vice-chancellor of Leicester said yesterday that, after consulting with staff and students, his institution has reviewed its position and would no longer be deducting 100% of pay for ASOS.
There are different approaches at different universities with regards to ASOS. Many universities have said they reserve the right to withhold pay for ASOS, but have not declared how much or when they will begin to do so.
UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: ‘Universities that wish to exploit the law and punish their staff as much as possible are storing up problems for the future and risk prolonging the dispute.
‘Action short of a strike highlights just how much universities rely on the goodwill of their staff who go the extra mile. Universities will need that goodwill when this dispute is all over, so it seems foolish to find ways now to maximise the punishment of their staff.
‘It is encouraging that some universities recognise we are at a crucial stage in this dispute and are adopting a more conciliatory tone. We would urge institutions like Kent, Sheffield and St Andrews to do the same or risk being seen as the pariahs of the sector.’