University deducts salaries of striking staff despite Covid-19

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Durham University has pressed ahead with deductions from staff salaries due to strike action despite the financial uncertainty caused by Covid-19.

Staff who were on strike for 14 days between 20th February and 13th March will have their salaries deducted accordingly, despite ‘goodwill’ gestures from other universities who have opted to not deduct pay. King’s College London has cancelled its salary deductions, while Southampton, St Andrews, Birkbeck, Newcastle and Ulster have postponed their deductions for the foreseeable future.

A Freedom of Information request submitted by Palatinate previously found that salary deductions saved the University over £450,000 during the 8 days of strike action in 2019.

Other universities have opted to not deduct pay

A spokesperson from Durham University and College Union (UCU), which represents staff, said: “This comes at a time when staff have made considerable sacrifices to deliver remaining and future teaching online. Many of us have also had to pay for our own personal computers and other equipment to create home offices. Durham has confirmed there will be ‘no detriment’ to students’ grades but the same does not seem to be the case for staff pay.

“So far it is not clear what financial support the University will be offering to facilitate home working. Many staff have already forked out to buy desks or computers to be able to work from home. The university needs to provide clarity on this and on the expectations for those with children and/or caring responsibilities.”

Durham UCU have particular concerns regarding staff who are on zero-hours or hourly-paid contracts: “There is also a lack of guarantees for casually employed and fixed term staff. Our most casual colleagues are the most financially insecure at the best of times, they are also the most likely to bear the brunt of any future job cuts. The university has announced a commitment to limit and avoid casualised contracts but this must mean keeping casually employed staff, not sacking them in the midst of a massive global health and economic crisis.

“The university must put staff and students ahead of buildings, prestige and expansion. We are the university and we all need to be there when we begin to rebuild after this crisis is over.”

The University saved £450,000 from the the 8 days of strike action in 2019

In a statement to Palatinate, Joanne Race, Director of Human Resources and Organisation Development, said: “The welfare of staff and students continues to be paramount in informing our response to the Covid-19 crisis.

“We have quickly moved to close non-essential buildings, enabling the vast majority of our staff to work from home where their roles allow. We are providing daily updates to our staff with information on, and links to, comprehensive resources to support staff wellbeing.

“The University Executive Committee this week considered further measures designed to recognise the incredible efforts of all our staff. Further communications on this will be issued in due course.

“We are, like the majority of universities impacted by strike action, continuing to deduct pay for those staff who participated in the strike. The timing of deductions, and the agreement to stagger them over a two month period to help minimise the financial impact on staff, was communicated at the time of the strike action.”

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