The Universities and College Union is set to establish a court battle with universities across the nation over what they claim to be an unlawful docking of staff pay.
The UCU are looking to take legal action after almost half of the higher education institutions that responded to a survey run by The Universities and Colleges Employers Association declared that they would not be paying a full day’s wage to staff participating in the two-hour strike on the 23 January.
Universities are yet to deny whether they will be taking the same action against staff striking on the 28 January and the 6 and 10 of February.
Sally Hunt, General Secretary of the UCU, outlined their challenge. “Any university that tries to dock a full day’s pay for a two-hour walkout will face a legal challenge from us and an lecturer escalation of strike action, as well as risking considerable damage to their reputation for fair play.”
University staff nationwide have been striking as part of the latest row over pay. A statement on the website of the York branch of the UCU affirms “we are striking to ensure a fair deal for everyone and a reconsideration of the offer of 1 per cent which would be the fifth year in a row of pay rises of 1 per cent or less for university staff.”
The strikes at the university of York have resulted in disruptions to teaching time and the closure of some departmental facilities. One first year mathematics student had two lectures and a tutorial session cancelled on the 6th of February because of the strike.
He told Nouse, “It’s definitely a disruption but I don’t blame them. The loss of three contact hours is redeemable, although, I understand how some students could feel that it is unfair to lose teaching time that they’re paying for when they have pretty much no say in the matter.”
UCU, which represents nearly 120,000 workers including lecturers, academics, researchers and academic related staff in colleges and universities across Britain plans to go ahead with the court case despite regulations that cast doubt over resulting success.
Case law suggests that if staff only undertake partial performance and fail to work contracted hours universities have the legal right to withdraw pay, although it is not clear whether withdrawing a full days wage is permissible.
In a statement on their website, the University clarified their position on pay.
“UCU members were notified on their ballot papers that taking industrial action might constitute a breach of their contract of employment. Any member of staff who takes two-hour strike action will be committing a breach of their contract of employment.
It is the policy of the University, as detailed in the Managing Industrial Action policy, to withhold pay from staff who participate in the industrial action.
“The University of York does not accept the partial performance of the contract of any member of staff, including partial performance due to a part-day strike.
“We are entitled to withhold a full day’s pay for partial performance in the form of a part-day strike, but we have decided – without prejudice to our legal rights – to make an ex gratia and voluntary payment to staff who do participate in part-day strike.
“This voluntary payment will give the effect of withholding only two hours’ pay.”