(Tim Packer)

University saves £950,000 in staff pay due to most recent UCU strikes

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Palatinate can reveal that the University saved £946,071.37 from staff pay deductions due to the UCU strikes between the 20th February and 13th March.

This figure, when added to savings from the strikes in November and December 2019, means that the university has saved nearly £1.4 million in staff pay during the 2019-20 academic year. 

This sum was discovered by Palatinate via a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

The University has not yet announced how the money will be spent, however it has said that “there will be full and transparent accounting at the end of the academic year.”

Durham pressed ahead with financial deductions from striking staff, despite some universities, such as King’s College London, opting not to deduct pay from staff on strike as ‘goodwill’ gestures, due to uncertainty caused by Covid-19.

Other universities, such as Southampton, St Andrews, Birkbeck, Newcastle and Ulster, postponed their deductions for the foreseeable future.

The decision to deduct pay was met with criticism from the Durham UCU, who told Palatinate that “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.”

Defending the decision to deduct pay, Joanne Race, Director of Human Resources and Organisation Development, told Palatinate: “The welfare of staff and students continues to be paramount in informing our response to the Covid-19 crisis.

“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.”

The strikes centred around two national disputes between UK universities and employers’ associations. The first concerned changes to pension schemes, which would see staff paying an average of £40,000 more, and getting £200,000 less in retirement.

The second dispute involved a cluster of issues concerning equality and contractual rights. These include the gender pay gap, BAME pay gap, a rising workload, pay rises that do not match inflation, and the use of casual contracts.

Palatinate’s full report of the latest round of industrial action can be read here.

In a poll of over 3,000 students, Palatinate found that 70% of students want the University to remunerate them for the disruption caused to their timetables.

After the 2018 round of industrial action, which affected 65 universities, the University announced that it would put savings into the Student Hardship Fund, but no such announcement has been made as of yet. 

When asked whether the University intended to reimburse students affected by the strike action, Professor Alan Houston, Vice-Provost (Education) previously told Palatinate said “At this point in time, we do not know the precise impact of strike action on individual students. 

“We are focusing our efforts on issues needing immediate attention, particularly putting place measures to ensure that students can meet the learning outcomes of the programmes on which they are registered.”

Image: Tim Packer

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