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UCU members appear unclear about losing pay for breaching their contracts

HE institutions are reporting that UCU members are confused by their trade union’s communication relating to losing pay for breaching their contracts. It is entirely usual after strike action to ask staff, whether or not they took part, to reprioritise work to make up for disrupted work and of course teaching is no different. Indeed it is essential for the purposes of minimising impact on students that HE institutions prioritise the teaching which strike action has disrupted and it is an entirely reasonable request of staff in the delivery of their contract. UCU is well aware of this, calling for two forms of industrial action in order to cause maximum disruption to students; both strikes and subsequent breaches of contract (‘action short of a strike’) through refusal, in particular, to reschedule teaching. 

UCU purposely balloted* for this partial performance as well as strike action, in order to make it ‘protected’ industrial action. No union expects their members to be paid in full while they are actively breaching their contracts and HE institutions are disappointed that UCU does not appear to have clarified in its advice to union members that the further action they have been asked to take - which is to refuse certain activities that form part of their duties - would have serious consequences on their pay. All HE institutions have long had in place policies that make it clear to their staff that such partial performance of the contract is unacceptable and pay will be withheld for as long as individuals are not working normally. Employers will have policies that explain the legal right to withhold all pay for contract breaches and that they may do this where these have serious implications, especially for students. They may use their discretion to pay a portion instead, depending on the circumstances they face.

Each autonomous HE institution is focused on managing this period of disruption to their students as best they can and protecting their students’ interests.

* www.ucu.org.uk/article/9197/USS-strike-action-agreed 

ENDS

Notes

Legal considerations:

  • No one has a right to pick and choose the parts of their contract they will or will not perform. 
  • The legal position is actually that the employer does not have to pay anything at all for action short of a strike that breaches the contract, such as refusing to undertake certain duties.
  • Employers will generally have policies that, of course, reserve the right to withhold all pay for contract breaches where these have serious implications, especially for students. They may use their discretion to pay a portion instead, depending on the circumstances they face.

UCEA is responsible for providing advice and support to its 172 member HE institutions in all employment matters, including matters such as industrial action. Universities UK represents the 350 employers that participate in the Universities Superannuation Scheme and its USS Pension Reform resources are available on their pensions section at www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/policy-and-analysis/Pages/pensions.aspx alongside facts, Q&A, modelling and other communications.

For further information: Please contact Andy Fryer, Head of Communications and Membership (a.fryer@ucea.ac.uk) or Marc Whittaker, Communications and Events Manager (m.whittaker@ucea.ac.uk). Call 020 7383 2444.