Striking University of Sheffield lecturers in fresh row over 'pay deductions'

University staff, supported by members of the students' union, during strike action.
University staff, supported by members of the students' union, during strike action.

Lecturers returning to work at the University of Sheffield after strike action have been told they will have pay deducted unless they take on certain duties, a union has claimed.

Sheffield academics and university support staff joined colleagues at more than 60 higher education institutions across the UK in staging a series of walk outs in a row over proposed changes to pensions that they claim could leave them thousands of pounds out of pocket.

READ MORE: BREAKING NEWS: Sheffield university strike to hit lecturers for up to four weeks

The University and College Union has agreed to call off the remainder of 14 days worth of planned strikes while representatives meet with bosses from Universities UK, which represents higher education institutions, to discuss how to find a solution.

Union members returned to work yesterday but are still undertaking action short of a strike, which consists of working to contract, not covering for absent colleagues, not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action and not undertaking any voluntary activities.

But the UCU claims bosses at the University of Sheffield has ruled that if staff have not rescheduled missed lectures within two days it will deduct 25 per cent of their salary and after five days it will withhold 100 per cent of salary paid during in ASOS.

The union accused universities of 'looking to exploit the law to withhold large sums of money from staff' which could 'prolong strike action' and 'do nothing' to help progress talks due to begin on Monday.

READ MORE: BREAKING NEWS: Sheffield university strike to hit lecturers for up to four weeks

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: "Action short of a strike highlights just how much universities rely on the goodwill of their staff who go the extra mile. Universities will need that goodwill when this dispute is all over, so it seems foolish to find ways now to maximise the punishment of their staff."

The dispute centres on a proposal by Universities UK, which represents higher education institutions, to end the defined benefit element of the Universities Superannuation Scheme pension scheme.

UUK said the scheme is in deficit and the only way to make it sustainable is to change it from a defined benefit scheme, giving members a guaranteed income in retirement, to a defined contribution scheme, where pensions are subject to changes in the stock market.

But members of the UCU insist the existing scheme is performing well and claim the new set up would leave a typical lecturer almost £10, 000 a year worse off in retirement.

READ MORE: University of Sheffield staff to begin strike action this week

A spokesman at the University of Sheffield said the institution welcomes the news that talks will begin and added that they must be held 'without preconditions' and include seeking independent advice on the USS pension valuation.

He added: "Our longstanding position in relation to partial performance, ​including action short of a strike​ where this results in a breach of contract​, is to reserve the right to deduct pay in a way which is proportionate to the impact on the operation of the university, including on students. This is in line with most other universities."