University of Birmingham officials have admitted some support staff were wrongly paid double time on bank holidays due to a “misinterpretation” of their contracts.
The admission came as union officials reacted angrily to the university’s plan to put the mistake right by offering only a day off in lieu for those working during public holidays and other so-called “closed days”.
It was not known how much the error cost the Edgbaston-based institution or over what timeframe the enhanced payments had been made.
A university spokesman said: “The contract of employment for support staff stipulates that all support staff are to be paid their normal rate of pay and receive time off in lieu if they are normally rostered to work on a bank holiday or university closed day.
“However, due to a misinterpretation of the contract of employment for support staff in some areas of the university, some staff working on bank holidays and university closed days have been paid at the double time (overtime) rate instead, plus time off in lieu.
“The university is now in consultation with the relevant unions to address this discrepancy.”
Confirmation of the double time payments came as the university faced the threat of industrial action by Unison members.
The union, which represents more than 2,000 library, administration and other support staff, said it had reached an “impasse” in negotiations over 2011/12 pay.
Unison regional organiser Dawn Sant branded the university’s stance over the bank holiday pay issue “harsh and unjustified”.
She said: “Cuts to support staff salaries will hit our members, who are on low to moderate incomes, at a time when they least can absorb them.
“Due to the harsh economic climate some staff are sacrificing their family time because they are increasingly reliant upon enhanced payments to make ends meet.”
The union is set to meet university officials for more talks on Mondayto discuss the bank holiday and “closed days” situation.
No changes to current pay arrangements will be introduced while talks continue.
The university spokesman confirmed: “The next meeting to discuss this issue will be held on June 11. In the meantime, the status quo is being maintained.
“For the future, the university proposes that all staff who are rostered to work on a bank holiday or a university closed day will be given an alternative day off in lieu.”
Unison had earlier warned of possible industrial action over the 2011/12 pay wrangle. The university said support staff had been offered a 1.2 per cent rise or £250, whichever was the greater, and other groups of workers had accepted the deal.
But Ms Sant said her members felt as if they had been backed into a corner and notice had been served of industrial action at the end of this month in the absence of “positive progress”.
She said: “We consulted with our members extensively and they feel they have been forced into a ballot situation by the University of Birmingham.
“There are other universities who have given two per cent to their lowest paid, which is moving more towards a living wage for staff.
“The vast majority of universities also pay allowances for evening and weekend work, which isn’t applicable to the majority of the lowest-paid members at Birmingham. This also impacts on pay.
“The university needs to recognise that whether someone is on a band 100 – a wage of £13,294 – or the salary of the vice-chancellor they all have to pay the same for a loaf of bread and bottle of milk, pay their rent, mortgage and ever-increasing utility bills.
“The cost of basic food and childcare is increasing rapidly but wages are not keeping up.”
The union claimed pay for support staff had deteriorated in real terms every year since 2009.
It said it feared working parents could be forced to leave their jobs if support staff incomes were reduced.
A university spokesman said: “The university regrets that Unison members are being balloted to take strike action over the 2011 pay settlement – an increase on all support staff pay points of 1.2 per cent or £250, whichever is greater – particularly as all other staff groups have now accepted the offer.”