University lecturers and students at one London university have said threatened 100% pay cuts for taking part in a strike are “aggressive”.
Some universities, including Queen Mary University of London have threatened staff with 100% pay reductions over strike action due to start next week.
Some 68 UK universities will be affected by the University College Union (UCU) strikes from February 14 for up to 10 days, with a walkout over pensions, pay and working conditions.
“It’s unusual, it’s unprecedented as far as I’m aware,” James Eastwood, the UCU representative at Queen Mary University of London said of 100% cuts for action short of a strike – which includes refusing to provide cover for striking colleagues.
He added that he had known employers “reserve the right” to deduct 100% pay for “partial performance” where employees carried out action short of a strike, but had never known them to say they would actually do it.
“They say openly in the materials they’ve circulated about it this.. that when they do dock 100% each day that you refuse to reschedule classes that were cancelled during the strike, that anything you do do would be voluntary and unpaid,” he added.
“So they’re effectively inviting staff to stop coming to work.”
“It does say that even if you didn’t participate in a strike, and you are asked to cover for someone or to teach a rescheduled version of a class that they refuse to reschedule, that you will also have 100% of your pay docked if you refuse,” he said.
“It’s a very aggressive strike-breaking, union-busting tactic,” he said.
In an email to staff, the university said: “100% of pay will be deducted from staff undertaking industrial action, including ASOS, if all planned activities are not undertaken”.
An email to students from Queen Mary said that “relatively small” numbers of staff were striking and that “misinformation” had been circulated to students.
It said that “we know that a good pension is really important for our staff, that is affordable and sustainable”.
“In relation to equality of pay: there have been claims that we pay women less than men,” the email adds.
“This is simply not true: it is illegal to pay women less than men for the same work.”
Student campaign group QMUL Solidarity who described the university’s response to the strike as “shocking”, said: “On January 31st, an email was sent to staff members (including most notably, Phd students) threatening them with 100% pay deductions for any educational activities that do not go ahead as planned.”
“This pay deduction will continue until these educational activities are completed- an action that would further increase the heavy workload for staff.”
“An extremely similar email was sent to students filled with misinformation. The email, which referred to the gender pay gap as “simply not true” ignored findings that revealed women within the University were paid 14% less than male counterparts, a number that more than doubled to 31% for BAME women,” they alleged.
A Queen Mary University of London spokesperson said: “Along with other universities, Queen Mary is very disappointed to be facing industrial action once again.
“We are particularly concerned for our students who have already faced considerable disruption as a result of the pandemic and previous sector-wide industrial action by staff in 2018, 2019 and 2020. Our first priority will always be to protect our students’ education and experience above all other activities carried out at the University.
“This is why we will reasonably ask staff undertaking ASOS that is not a breach of contract to prioritise all education activity above all other contractual activities, so that our students are not impacted. No deductions will be taken if staff prioritise and carry out, during normal working hours, their contractual duties in terms of all education activities in full.
“Queen Mary does not accept partial performance. A failure to reschedule and deliver all cancelled planned education activities will amount to a breach of contract and partial performance, and 100% of pay will be deducted until that education activity is rescheduled within acceptable timescales.”