Staff pay cut could prolong strikes, say UCU

University staff who are on strike will have their pay withheld by 25 percent for every day of ‘partial performance’ at work, including not rescheduling cancelled classes.

UEA emailed all staff to say that where they are taking action short of a strike (known as ASOS) in connection with the ongoing UCU industrial action, 25 percent of pay will be withheld for every day.

ASOS consists of staff only working to contract, not covering for absent colleagues, not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action and not undertaking any voluntary activities. ASOS only occurs on days where official strike action is not planned.

The university informed staff of this on Tuesday 20 February.

The news comes after several other universities introduced similar policies. The UCU since warned that “universities imposing overly punitive measure would annoy members and do nothing to progress talks due to begin on Monday.”

A university spokesperson explained UEA’s decision. “This is a legitimate and reasonable action for UEA to take as an employer and within the law. It also recognises that ASOS is a legitimate form of industrial action,” they said.

SU Postgraduate Officer Maddie Colledge criticised the university for unfair and punitive measures.

She said: “This spiteful move from the University (which is not one being taken by several other Unis) will come as a real shock to students.

“It’s completely unfair to penalise staff twice for withdrawal of labour and demonstrates how many unpaid hours academics actually work for us out of their goodwill. Instead of squandering that goodwill, Uni management should be doing all they can with UUK to resolve the dispute”

The university did not comment on what implications reducing staff pay for ASOS might have on the length of the ongoing UCU strikes. However the general secretary of the UCU, Sally Hunt, suggested universities which “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,” she said.

The President of UEA’s UCU branch, Dr. Brett Mills, also criticised the university for their ‘combative and hard-line’ response to the strikes.

Dr. Mills said: “Why UEA have chosen to be combative and hard-line in this way is unclear. I think staff want to come to a sensible solution. We can see a reasonable logic losing our salaries while on strike. But something like this is unreasonable.

“It’s penalising people twice for taking the same actions. So you go on strike, you don’t get paid for doing the teaching that’s cancelled, and then if you don’t do that teaching again you’re having the money taking off you.”

“It’s a disproportionate amount of money that’s being taken off people, when there’s no way the amount of work that’s being talked about constitutes 25 percent of somebody’s workload.”

Today, Monday 5 March, is the sixth of fourteen days of industrial action called for by the UCU. Staff have undertaken ASOS on the days where official industrial action was not called for.

Dr. David Nowell Smith, a committee member for UEA’s branch of the UCU, shared a similar sentiment to Dr. Mills. “Docking pay for ASOS will certainly make the negotiations more fraught,” he said.

“But my main worry concerns the medium to long-term impact of this at UEA. When the industrial action is over, whatever the outcome, we’re all going to have to work with each other again. What will such an adversarial, divisive measure do to staff morale? How long will it take for management to restore trust?

“People taking ASOS are being docked salary for not doing any work except what they are contracted to do – and this demonstrates that management’s expectation is that we’ll routinely work above and beyond what is legally required of us.”

Another lecturer, who wished to remain anonymous, said the university’s response to ASOS “amounts to being told that a quarter of your wage is for work that is not determined or protected by your contract.”

They added: “It is galling to have your employer tell you that a quarter of your value is the unpaid labour it is assumed you will undertake.”

“No-one has taken the decision to join the industrial action lightly—and this sort of bad faith approach to the dispute risks adding fuel to the fire,” they said.

Several other universities responded to ASOS by withholding staff pay. The University of Kent said they will will withhold 50 percent of pay for ASOS, but it reserves the right to withhold 100 percent and any work staff then undertake would be voluntary.

Staff at the University of Leicester originally had 100 percent of their pay deducted for ASOS, however, on Wednesday 28 February, the Vice-Chancellor of Leicester reversed his decision and will no longer cut staff pay. St Andrews University and the University of Sheffield have also reversed their decisions to withhold pay from staff who only work to contract.

The UCU suggested this is indicative of universities recognising that the pensions dispute is now at a crucial stage, and as such they are “rowing back from a previous hostile position.”

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: “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 […] and St Andrews to do the same or risk being seen as the pariahs of the sector.”


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July 2022
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