LOW-PAID cleaners and catering staff at Sheffield Hallam University have won a long-running battle against moves to cut their wages by as much as £2,000 a year.
An employment tribunal has ruled that a decision by university managers to change the pay grades of 125 workers 18 months ago was unacceptable.
The GMB union took the issue to tribunal using four workers, domestic assistants Josie Ledger and Linda Wilkinson, and catering assistants Joan Kempton and Michelle France, as test cases.
A two-day hearing found the university had no contractual right to change the workers’ grades and that the process they went through to make the decision was unreasonable.
The university said that it is disappointed with the tribunal’s decision but is awaiting the written judgment before it considers any further course of action.
Support staff went through an independent regrading procedure in 2007 which placed them on wages higher than before.
“The wage rises were quite substantial and were also backdated – this was a bugbear to the university which decided it had to do something as money was short,” said Sue Hill, a GMB organiser.
“They decided to carry out a second grade evaluation but this was carried out internally by the university’s own human resources department.”
The result was that some cleaners and caterers, mostly working part-time, received pay cuts of more than £140 a month.
They were also ordered to give back the cash they had been ‘wrongly’ paid as a result of the first evaluation – as much as £2,800 for full-time staff.
Mrs Hill said the university had not yet been in contact with the GMB to say how it would respond to the tribunal ruling.
“We understand there is to be a big meeting on Friday. It may be that there could be an appeal,” she added.
Hallam GMB convenor Pat Maddock, who was a witness at the tribunal, said everyone was pleased with the verdict and many staff from all over the university had offered their congratulations.
“It has been a very technical case which not everyone has fully understood. But people have understood they have been seriously out of pocket and that is the bottom line,” he said.
“This sort of case is why they pay their union subs – to get the expert knowledge needed to fight their corner,” he added.
At the time of the 2010 regrading, Hallam had claimed the original pay rise had been a ‘mistake’.
A spokeswoman argued the workers were still being paid more than similar staff at Sheffield University and that wages were in line with other universities around the country.