Patent examiners to strike over ‘shambolic’ pay system

By Penny Sarchet

Patent examiners will strike on 8 February over a pay freeze and overwork due to staff shortages, the Prospect union has announced.

The union balloted its members on 1 February. Ninety per cent voted in favour of a strike on a 65 per cent turnout. Prospect members will strike for half a day from 12:30pm.

The strike will be followed by work-to-rule for the rest of February. Prospect members say they will stop working overtime, and will spend more time on each patent.

Prospect negotiator Helen Stevens claimed on 1 February that union members at the Intellectual Property Office have been treated worse than other public sector workers. She said that austerity has resulted not only in pay freezes but also an end to the system in which staff automatically move onto a higher salary scale each year.

An IPO spokesman confirmed to Research Fortnight that the usual civil service procedure of salaries progressing upwards through levels of a pay scale had been put on ice.

“This has cost them large sums of money and left a pay system that is fundamentally unfair and frankly shambolic,” said Stevens.

She said that many patent examiners are working extra hours because of recruitment problems arising from denying progression.

“This level of personal sacrifice is too much. The result of this ballot shows members’ determination to protest at such unfairness,” she added.

Prospect claims that the IPO had surpluses in 2010-11 and 2011-12 but is not allowed to use this money to pay staff.

“The government’s policies on pay have left the IPO with an unfair and discriminatory pay system,” said Eleanor Wade, Prospect’s IPO branch president.

A Prospect spokesman told Research Fortnight that the industrial action is related not to an upturn in patent applications but to short-staffing resulting from recruitment and retention problems.

When asked to comment on the strike, an IPO representative said in an email to Research Fortnight: “The acting chief executive wrote to Prospect on 21 December expressing a desire to avoid industrial action and agreeing to meet. It is regrettable that Prospect has now chosen to take strike action on the day previously set for that meeting.”

The representative said that the IPO has taken action to “limit the impact of any action on the business”.

This article was published in Research Professional, the UK’s leading independent source of news, analysis, funding opportunities and jobs for the academic research community.

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