THE first walkout in a wave of strikes will take place today at universities across the country over a lengthy battle over pay.

University staff are set to stage its first of three strikes planned between 11am and 1pm, which could potentially lead to a number of classes being disrupted.

Students at the University of Chester, which has a campus in Padgate, have been told that the university will remain open and university management plan to minimise any disruption to its students.

Staff are protesting over a 1 per cent pay rise with the University and College Union (UCU) general secretary, Sally Hunt, labelling the offer as ‘measly’.

This follows what the union calls ‘a glut of embarrassing stories about vice-chancellors’ pay’ with the University of Chester vice-chancellor earning an annual rate of £225,000.

The university came under fire on Tuesday after it emerged that it planned to withhold a full day’s pay from any members of the UCU who take part in the two-hour walkout.

Mrs Hunt said: “If the University of Chester really wants to take this highly confrontational approach then we will fight it.

“As well as risking pariah status and damage to its reputation for fair play, it will face us in the courts as we challenge for every penny deducted from our members’ pay.

“Perversely, any universities that do dock a full day’s pay will ensure far greater disruption for their students, which suggests the approach has nothing to do with the welfare of staff or students and is based around penny-pinching and bullying.

“Any kind of disruption is always a last resort but, after five years of pay suppression with members 13 per cent worse off in real terms, we want a fair deal.”

However, a spokesman for the university has criticised these claims by the union, calling the information published as ‘outdated’, ‘inaccurate’ and ‘misleading’.

A spokesman for the university has argued that, according to legal advice, it does not have to pay staff if they make up the time lost due to the strike despite the UCU claiming they are entitled to be paid for the time that they work.

A spokesman added: “Attendance for part of a working day, at the discretion of an individual member of staff, does not constitute performance of a contract of employment for that day.

“In law, the practice of taking industrial action for a short period of time, but working outside the strike hours on the same day, is regarded as voluntary.

“Therefore, universities employing members striking for part of a day are legally entitled to withhold pay for a whole day to reflect this.

“Historically, the university has enjoyed an excellent working relationship with its recognised trade unions.

“Because of this, and to acknowledge the commitment of staff, who are keen to put the interests of their students first by working on strike days outside of the two-hour stoppage, the university has informed UCU that pay on Thursday will be withheld only during the two hours of strike action, as a gesture of goodwill.

“Payment for the rest of that day’s work will be made on an ex-gratia basis.”

A full day’s pay will be withheld for the two remaining two-hour strikes planned on Tuesday between 2pm and 4pm and on Monday, February 10, between 9am and 11am.

Discussions are currently taking place to plan a full day strike, with the date to be confirmed later this week.