THE University of Reading has threatened of ‘up to 100 per cent of pay cuts’  for staff amid a battle over 'unpaid overtime'.

Members of the University and Colleges Union (UCU) have walked out all last week and three days this week, in a dispute about rising pension costs, pay and working conditions.

The industrial action also includes ‘action short of strike’, intended to ‘legally slow down productivity’, according to the UCU. It means strictly working only contracted hours and no unpaid overtime. 

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However, the university has warned staff members who don’t make up for lost teaching and don’t fulfil ‘implied terms’ – which lecturers claim includes unpaid overtime - could see their pay docked by up to 100 per cent.

In a recent staff email, seen by the Reading Chronicle, the university’s head of human resources John Brady said: “The university is not legally obliged to pay you in full if you only partially perform your contractual duties. This could lead to deduction of up to 100 per cent of pay.

“As well as the express terms of your written contact of employment, there are other implied terms that are also contractual obligations.” 

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While it is unclear what ‘other implied terms’ means, Mr Brady gives the example of rescheduling classes missed due to strike action — which lecturers would not be paid for.

Professor Par Kumaraswami said: “A lot of academics work evenings and weekends. They need to recognise we are regularly doing unpaid labour.” 

She said a lot of academics at the University of Reading work 55 or 60 hours a week, despite only expecting to work 35 hours. 

According to analysis of ONS data by the Trades Union Council (TUC), educational professionals and teachers work the most unpaid hours on average each week of all occupations: 12 hours and 10 minutes, or more than two hours extra Monday to Friday.  

Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, said: “Lots of us are willing to put in a few extra hours when it’s needed, but too many employers are taking advantage. Overworking staff hurts productivity, leaves workers’ stressed and exhausted and eats into time that should be spent with family and friends.” 

Last year during industrial action, some students across the UK tried to sue their universities for lectures lost. The University of Reading has warned staff that, if it gets sued for the current industrial action, staff could have to pay for some of the damages.

In his email to staff, Mr Brady added: “The university reserves the right to join you as a party to any claim for breach of contract brought against the university as a result of this current action.”

The current industrial action is partly about workload and casualised labour. Prof Kumaraswami  said lecturers on temporary contracts are struggling to get rental agreements or mortgages, despite having PhDs. 

She said the workload was becoming ‘more and more intolerable’. “Lecturers with two or three years of experience are already getting burned out.” 

A university spokesperson said: “Working at a university involves numerous responsibilities to allow us to operate properly. Certain actions, like not rescheduling missed classes, may be a breach of contract and could result in pay being deducted. 

“We encourage any staff who intend to participate in action short of strike and are unclear on what actions they are entitled to take to speak to their line manager.

“We do not want to dock the pay of any member of staff, but it is important that everyone understands all the implications of their actions.”