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Queen Mary University staff challenge threat to cut 100 per cent of pay for days affected by industrial action short of a strike

Queen Mary University lecturers have said they will launch a legal case if they are docked all their pay for taking industrial action short of a strike in February and March.

Posted on 04 April 2022

The membership of the Queen Mary branch of the University and Colleges Union (UCU) have written to the university management board to demand an urgent investigation into the unlawfully disproportionate hit to their wages.

They claim the proposed deduction of a full day’s pay for any “action short of a strike” (ASOS) is a breach of contract, a breach of their human rights, a breach of their trade union rights and will require the university to carry out a prohibited blacklisting exercise.

The industrial action by hundreds of university staff involves working strictly to their contractual terms and not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to 10 days of strike action taken in February and March. It also involves not uploading online materials relating to those classes and not covering for absent colleagues. However, staff would otherwise be working normally.

The university’s policy could in theory result in staff losing months of pay for refusing to reschedule just a single hour-long lecture or refusing to upload lecture slides, even as they continued to carry out other tasks.

The industrial action does not amount to total cessation of work, so university management acted disproportionately when they set out to cut all pay for the entirety of those days, argues the Queen Mary branch of UCU.

Before the lecturers took the action, the university warned staff in an email that those taking part would have 100 per cent of their wages deducted for periods where “all planned educational activities are not undertaken”.

A document on the Queen Mary University website also specifies that 100 per cent of a ‘full day’s pay’ will be deducted from staff who take strike action for part of the day and says staff must advise their line manager that they have participated in strike action and action short of a strike.

Represented by law firm Leigh Day, the UCU branch says that course of action is contrary to the university’s legal obligations as a public institution and an employer. They say the threat to withhold pay is disproportionate and looks like a retaliatory attempt to undermine the fundamental rights of workers.

They say the university acted unlawfully on four grounds:

Breach of contract: Case law has shown there is no lawful basis for an employer to make punitive deductions from wages that exceed the boundaries of the industrial action taken by their workers. A worker must be paid as much as they have earned

Human rights: Deductions from wages that go beyond the scope of the refusal to provide labour contravene the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and therefore the Human Rights Act 1998. The Queen Mary UCU branch says the pay cut is an interference with members’ rights under Article 11 of the ECHR, the right to protest and demonstrate with other people. It must be justified on the grounds of proportionality, which in this instance is lacking.

Trade union relations: To punitively withhold the wages of workers, beyond the period of the strike and/or ASOS, is a breach of section 146 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992

Blacklisting: The mechanism for identifying those members whose wages would be cut is a form of blacklisting.

James Eastwood of the Queen Mary University UCU branch said:

“This is a flagrant attack on the right to take strike action and a heavy-handed attempt to intimidate staff. Staff are facing the prospect of weeks and months of a total loss of pay, while the cost of living continues to soar, even as they continue to go into work. No one seriously believes it would be possible to reschedule so much lost teaching. Instead, the aim is simply to threaten staff and break the strike. Our members won’t be backing down.”

Leigh Day solicitor, employment law specialist Ryan Bradshaw said:

“This is an attempt by the employer to undermine the rights of their workers to organise as part of a union and to take strike action to protect their terms and conditions. It is recognised internationally that the right to take strike action is a fundamental one that requires protection from the acts of employers and the state. As we have seen with the recent behaviour of P&O it is crucial that the rights of workers are upheld and enforced.”

Ryan Bradshaw
Discrimination Employment Human rights

Ryan Bradshaw

Ryan advises on human rights, discrimination and employment law

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