A new academic year is upon us, and to say that there is a lot going on is an understatement. Over the next week, we will be sending you updates on local health and safety policy and the central negotiations we are doing, as well as our ongoing dispute. In this branch news, however, we wanted to take this chance, with the fresh start that new years offer, to step back, and write to all of you with an introduction to what UCU (and unions more generally) do, and how you can get involved.
Transparent information flow and consultation
One of our most important goals as a branch committee is to make sure that information is being shared transparently and regularly. We want every member to know what the branch is doing, and for members to have chances to collectively decide what we do. As a group of members with strong opinions, we know we won’t always agree on everything, but we are committed to having the conversation – with its agreements and its disagreements – openly, transparently, and democratically, and to developing plans that reflect a majority position, and we think that this is a fundamental part of what makes Sheffield UCU strong.
We try to email you regularly, and encourage you to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Perhaps even more importantly though, we try to meet as a full branch or as individual workplaces as often as possible, so that we can consistently talk as a group about any issues that are facing us, and work together to figure out how to address them. Our next branch general meeting is coming up on Thursday, the 14th of October, from 1-2pm. We will have a guest speaker from the University of Liverpool to talk about their immensely successful local action to resist compulsory redundancies, and we will be talking about our own ongoing disputes. You can see the agenda here, and register for the GM here. A Zoom link for the meeting will be sent out the morning of (And that will happen this time! Apologies for our mistake of a few weeks ago. After a year of so many meetings online, we suppose it was inevitable that we would forget once, and assume a link would be magically available).
We also try to facilitate members talking and planning in smaller groups, and we have a network of department representatives across this university. These union reps hold meetings in local work areas, and are an integral part of helping to share information with members, and to share your needs and concerns with those of us who collectively bargain with university management. If you are interested in getting involved as a branch rep, either in partnership with an existing rep in your work area, or because your work area doesn’t have a rep yet, please get in touch and we are happy to answer questions about what it involves. We are especially looking to increase our reps network for professional services staff who are working in faculty offices or in academic departments.
Networks of support and solidarity
In addition to our departmental reps network, over the past 3 years we have worked to establish other networks of members, in similar roles or contract types, to facilitate support, solidarity, and to steer and develop local campaigning. We have an active professional services staff network for all of our PS members, which meets once a month. We also have an anti-casualisation network for staff on casualised contracts which meets semi-regularly. If you want to be part of either of these member networks, or to suggest a new one (be forewarned of the blessing/curse of the volunteer: We may ask for some help in organising it!) please get in touch with us at any point.
Individual and collective casework
Casework is one of the areas that unions are best known for. Essentially, casework is the process by which we help you find a way to resolve an issue that you are facing in the workplace.
At this branch, our caseworkers provide support for members in three primary ways. We regularly hold casework surgeries where you can attend 30 minute appointments. For many types of issues members face, these short appointments provide you the chance to speak to caseworkers, who can offer advice and support in an effort to resolve your issue locally and informally. In other cases though, a surgery appointment may make it clear that you need more significant support (or you may know this in advance), and a caseworker can be assigned to you. Lastly, it may become clear that an issue facing one member is in fact a collective issue, facing an entire work area, or members on a particular contract type. In these cases, branch negotiators and caseworkers may also pursue a collective campaign or policy change based on the wider issues being faced by our membership.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have seen an increase in both the number of collective issues, and individual issues, that our members are facing. We are looking for volunteers who might be willing to get involved in casework. Being a caseworker doesn’t mean you have to instantly know all university policy – this branch, and UCU more centrally, provides training, mentoring, and support for new caseworkers. All you need is a willingness to learn, to represent members, and skills in communicating and listening. Being a caseworker also doesn’t mean taking on an enormous number of cases. With enough caseworkers to take on an average of one case per semester, we can spread our workload, as well as increasing the number of members who are actively informed about university policy and able to advocate for yourselves and for others on both a formal and informal basis.
Collective bargaining, Health and Safety, and Equalities
Our branch committee fields a team of negotiators who meet regularly with members of university management, along with representatives from the other campus trade unions: Unite, UNISON, and GMB. In addition to our regular joint trade union negotiations, policy specific negotiation meetings, health and safety meetings, and employment security group meetings (ESG is where we find out about upcoming restructures and potential redundancies, among other things), and dispute related negotiations, we also take part in specific working groups, such as the gender pay gap working group, the academic workload working group, and others. Since the pandemic began, we have also met with representatives of university management regularly to collectively bargain over the university’s planned policies around Covid-19, which led to University of Sheffield employees receiving a top-up to 100% pay if they were on furlough last year.
Via branch news, interim emails, our branch meetings, our twitter account, and our reps network we try to keep members up to date on what is happening in negotiations, and to make you aware of what policies we have negotiated, where we see issues with university policies, and most importantly, what your rights are as a member of this university.
Disputes and industrial action
As a union, our first resort is to pursue change via negotiations, bargaining, and campaigning. However, negotiations can break down, and at this point, members face the decision of whether or not we should escalate to a dispute.
In relation to both our pension benefits, and to our pay and working conditions, negotiations at a UK-wide level have broken down. Indeed, in recent years, we have seen a trend of our UK level employer representatives pursuing extreme changes without being willing to negotiate.
As a result of this complete breakdown in negotiations, UCU is currently preparing to ballot HE members across the UK for industrial action over our pension benefits, and over our pay and working conditions, called the ‘four fights’.
Locally, Sheffield UCU is also preparing to ballot, in relation to the university’s decisions to close the Department of Archaeology, and the sweeping and destructive restructuring of our language provision, which is already impacting the School of Languages and Cultures and Modern Languages Teaching Centre, and is planned to impact the School of East Asian Studies, as well as all professional services staff in these departments, and indirectly, every department which shares a dual or single honours degree with these departments. We have given University management until noon today to respond to our branch’s demand for an assurance of no compulsory redundancies, and if we do not receive this assurance, we will ballot for industrial action during a similar time frame to the UK wide HE ballots.
We will be sending you much more information about the UK and local disputes in the coming weeks, and in particular, we have been posting a series of in depth posts related to the Local Dispute on our blog. Soon, we will also be writing to all members of staff at the university to inform you of an all staff briefing for midday on the 19th of October, so we ask you to save the date in your diaries.
Lastly, please update your contact information at My UCU today, making sure your address is correct, and that you have a phone number listed. Being able to contact you during a ballot is crucial for making sure we pass the 50% threshold.
As a union, we stand in solidarity with other branches of UCU, and other unions which are in dispute. Over the last 6 months, we have asked members to support action at UCU branches across both the HE and FE sectors, including an international boycott the Universities of Leicester and Liverpool over cuts to jobs, the improper use of research metrics, targeting of critical areas of scholarship and victimisation of trade union representatives and members. The news out of Liverpool is a significant success, with a hard fought campaign seeing 47 proposed compulsory redundancies reduced to zero. Huge congratulations to the branch at Liverpool UCU.
The story at Leicester is a bit more mixed - a strong campaign in defence of jobs also led to the total numbers of redundancies being reduced, but several long standing members of staff (including UCU members and officers) were still forcibly made redundant, and management there is now moving on to a second phase of proposed cuts. We expect Leicester management to find themselves in employment tribunals shortly, and in the meantime encourage all members to continue to uphold the international boycott of Leicester and send whatever support you can to the branch there.
Across tertiary education, UCU branches are preparing for disputes to take a stand against mis-management and attacks on terms and conditions. This week, UCU members at the Royal College of Arts have been on strike against unsafe workloads and exploitative, precarious contracts, and UCU members at Goldsmiths University of London are preparing to ballot against a set of destructive planned redundancies of staff in English, History, and Professional Services, after a hugely strong turnout on their consultative ballot.
Locally, the cleaning staff in Sheffield University Unite have submitted a claim to University management demanding a guarantee of hourly pay of at least £10, and Real Living Wage accreditation moving forward, so that this University never falls behind, especially in years of extremely high inflation, like this one. All of the joint Sheffield University trade unions have recently taken part in initial discussions with representatives from human resources over this claim, and we stand 100% with Unite. This University has a responsibility to its staff to pay a Real Living Wage, and anything less is not acceptable. Beyond this, we’d also like to point out that we are incredibly disappointed that Unite has even had to make this claim, and that the University has not committed to be a Real Living Wage employer on their own initiative, prior to now. Our cleaners were fundamental front line workers keeping us safe over the last 18 months, and on their current salary, it would take them 34 years to earn what our VC earns in one year. This is not a fair remuneration scheme.
As members, it is a fundamental right that we are all entitled to time to engage in trade union activities, and the power that we have as a union to effect positive change comes from our involvement. For example, if the nearly 2000 members of this branch each dedicated 15 minute per week to UCU, this adds up to 500 hours per week of us collectively contributing to and supporting our union.
We know how busy everyone is, and that the time we have changes from week to week, and month to month. But our workplace, and our union, benefits from all of us being involved, even if it’s just a small amount of time to read an email like this one. We have put together 2 lists of ways that you can be involved with UCU depending on how much time you have in a given week: 15 minutes, or an hour. These are formatted so you can hang them up in your office, as a reminder of how little things can add up!
June Branch News: Archaeology, Governance, Pay & Pensions and more!
In this month’s branch news: the future of Archaeology hangs in the balance as Senate debates the issue, the university's governance structures and processes come under increasing scrutiny, and we call members to an EGM on the national disputes.
Ways to get involved:
EGM Calling Notice: We are calling all members to attend an urgent EGM on Monday 28th June, 13.00-14.00, to discuss the union’s strategy for the national disputes over both USS and the Four Fights. The results from the recent Congress strongly commit the union to undertake sustained campaigns to defend our pensions, pay, and working conditions, and therefore the Higher Education Committee (HEC) will meet on July 2nd to discuss our strategy, including the timing of potential ballots, and the nature of potential industrial action. Since HEC needs to be guided by the membership, this EGM is your chance to engage in discussion about the national strategy which will feed directly into HEC’s decision-making. So please come along and have your say in how we take forward these incredibly important disputes. Use this form to register and the zoom link will be sent on the morning of the meeting.
Professional Services members meeting 28 June, 1:00-2:00, register here.
This month is UCU 'Love our ARPS' month, which focuses on signal boosting and developing campaigns on behalf of professional services members in UCU. Take a look at the work of the UK ARPS committee, and let us know if you want to get involved in our local work campaigning over PS pay and promotion equality! Also, if you have professional services colleagues who don’t think UCU is for them, please show them this lovely blog post, written by previous SUCU member Amy Ryall.
We are looking to expand our existing network of anti-cas departmental reps. If you are interested in getting involved or want to learn more, please get in touch with our new ant-cas officer Ben either by email, or through the linked Google Form.
Liverpool UCU started their marking boycott on Friday, 18 June, after three weeks of strike action against the unethical ‘rank and yank’ redundancy scheme being pursued by their university management. In response, Liverpool SMT have threatened 100% pay deductions. The branch is asking for messages of solidarity and donations to their fighting fund from UCU branches to help support members receiving their pay deductions as part of this fight.
Senate met on Wednesday 23 June to consider UEB's recommendation to close the Department of Archaeology. This happened in the context of troubling reports about how the review process was conducted, including ethically dubious research methods (and more here), concerning reports of senior management attitudes to our students and their capacity to learn, and potential misrepresentation of the goals of the review. Reports from Senate suggested that the department had a warm hearing and UEB’s decision and the process behind it were sharply questioned. Unfortunately the chair of Senate (who is also chair of UEB - no conflict there at all of course) denied a vote, and instead all Senators are being asked to individually provide feedback to advise Council. We remain concerned that the university has weakened governance structures and now has no effective academic oversight of what our senior managers are doing. Given the widespread concern locally, nationally and internationally, we remain hopeful that Council will intervene to reject UEB's recommendation. In the meantime, please continue supporting our colleagues in Archaeology and making your views known to Senators and Council members.
The Archaeology decision has also highlighted the overwhelming failures of process in how the university manages change. To give one example, Change Management Processes require HR to conduct post-restructure reviews to learn lessons from completed processes. We are not aware of these taking place over the last five years, despite many restructuring processes. With our colleagues in UNITE and Unison, we raised our concerns that the university is not following its own policies (or learning from completed processes) in a formal letter, here, which we have not had a reply to.
Flexible working and reasonable adjustments
As more staff begin to work on campus some days of the week (in addition to those who have already been working on campus over the past year), University management has announced an approach to flexible working over the coming months. We know that some members are already working on campus, and we are also aware that there have been a wide range of approaches to flexible working across work areas, some of which have raised concerns, and some of which have received support. Because of this variation, we are trying to take these concerns on a case-by-case basis.
Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have questions or concerns about the approach being taken in your work area, either individually or collectively. We are able to support individual members via casework, and can raise departmental issues via our negotiation structures, or schedule a health and safety inspection for your work area.
On the Health & Safety theme, we are always looking for members to be involved as health and safety reps. Health & Safety regulations give us the most legal protection of all the UK’s workplace legislation, and if this is an area which you would like to learn more about please get in touch. Training is available, as is support for requesting paid time off to engage in this.
The SUCU branch equality working group has also put together specific resources for staff with disabilities related to flexible working and reasonable adjustments. We’re linking to those here in a number of accessible formats. We hope these are helpful, and as always let us know if you have questions.
Last week, Sheffield UCU held its annual general meeting with over 100 members attending. We passed an important motion on solidarity with Palestine, and calling for the university to divest from companies who are complicit in the occupation. We also elected a new branch committee for 2021-22. There are still a couple of positions available on committee; if you are interested in joining, or aren’t sure but would like to learn more about what it involves, get in touch with us at email@example.com.
National UCU updates
The annual meeting of UCU Congress, which is the primary policy making body of the union, was held over the last weekend in May. SUCU sent a full set of delegates as well as members who are part of the National Executive Committee and the national UCU equalities groups.
You can see a full list of the motions that were passed here. Please do take a moment to look over the motions as passed. As a branch, our interventions were broadly supported, with a long delayed rule change proposal to provide national hustings events for UCU elections passed. The Higher Education Conference also discussed our ongoing disputes over pensions and pay and conditions. We’ll discuss the implications of this in our upcoming EGM, but please do take the time to look over the motions, which will guide the industrial strategy of the union over the coming year.
Block the Boat for Palestine! Lessons from Trade Union and Community Activists
The most recent Israeli attack on Gaza has been met by mass protests around the world. In port cities from the United States and Canada to Europe and South Africa, trade union and community activists have responded to the call for boycott, divestment and sanctions by setting up blockades to prevent the docking of ships from the Israeli Zim company and the loading of arms of Israel. These actions build on a series of protests in port cities in the early 2000's by trade union and community activists, including participation in the Ship to Gaza/ Freedom Flotilla effort in 2014. In this meeting, we will hear from trade union and community activists from the United States, Sweden and Italy who have played a central role in these and other solidarity actions for Palestine. The event will focus on the organising lessons learned with a discussion to follow.
Participants: Dr. Rafeef Ziadah (Panel chair), Lara Kiswani, Erik Helgeson, Jose Nivoi, Giacomo Marchetti, Zuhayr Mahomed
Next Thursday (1st July 10am-12pm) will see the launch of the manifesto for the first phase of the UCU’s 'PGRs as Staff campaign'. More details about the event, as well as a form to sign up, can be found here.
Spring branch news: Solidarity to members facing redundancies nationally and restructures locally
Ways to get involved this month:
May Professional Services member’s meeting - Thursday 20 May, 1-2pm This is our last meeting of the Spring term, and we will be discussing the University's 'flexible working' proposal, professional services pay and promotions, and other member issues. Come and bring a friend! Register using this form.
Our annual general meeting is coming up on Tues, 8 June from 1-2 pm. This meeting provides a chance to take stock of the year and discuss the large issues facing the branch now, and in the year ahead. You can find the agenda here, and can register to attend here. Also, as you will see from the agenda, we still have a couple of vacancies on committee. If you're interested in being on the branch committee, holding an officer position, or otherwise getting more involved in the branch, please get in touch -- the current members of committee are happy to answer any questions you may have!
Show support for branches across the sector facing redundancies by writing and signing letters, signal boosting local campaigns, and taking part in the UCU boycott of Leicester University. See below for more details.
Restructures and job security updates
Many thanks to those of you who attended the EGM on job security and workload issues on 5th May, where we heard updates on the current restructure programme and overwhelmingly passed a motion that mandates the branch to escalate our opposition to the attacks on job security, up to and including balloting on industrial action. You can view the text of the motion here. We have also sent the VC an open letter asking him to halt the Future of Languages initiative, signed by staff across all campus unions as well as non-members. If you were unable to sign the letter previously, but wish to add your name, you can still do so, using this form.
We are expecting to finally discuss the substance of the grievance that has been submitted by UNISON, Unite and SUCU over the proposed changes to the School of Languages and Cultures next week. Should the outcome of the grievance discussions be unsatisfactory, we will be in touch again with further updates and next steps.
We were incredibly frustrated to learn recently that yet another restructure has launched in one of the professional services departments of the University. We are currently representing staff in restructures across far too many of our work areas and faculties, and the University must slow down the pace of change. Staff are exhausted and demoralised, and the staffside trade unions cannot adequately resource our representation of staff. Under the terms of our agreement with the University, they are required to undertake meaningful consultation with us and at present this is near-impossible. Since March 2020 we have held and communicated the position that putting staff at risk of redundancy during a global pandemic amounts to a significant undermining of the University’s stated intention to support its staff.
The current round of restructures at Sheffield is not solely focused on Arts and Humanities but across the sector we are seeing concerted attacks on those programmes and research areas and we want to be clear to all colleagues, in FAH and elsewhere, that we will defend jobs and programmes across the entire University. We need your support to be able to do this. Please sign letters, come to branch meetings, and respond to any consultative communications you receive from us.
We continue to hear extensive feedback from departmental reps and members in meetings about serious stress and workload concerns, and we are in the initial stages of developing a health and safety oriented addition to our longstanding local campaign around workloads. We are working closely with colleagues in Health and Safety and HR on stress risk management and mental health but while those measures might improve things in some areas the root cause of workload and stress in HE remains consistent: under-resourcing and precarity.
We are pleased to report that UEB has very recently committed to implementing the principles of workload modelling and management for academic staff that were proposed by the Academic Workload Working Group, which was created in 2019 at the request of UCU (we are continuing to push for a comparable group to be formed to consider the workloads of Professional Services staff, and hope that UEB’s adoption of these principles may facilitate that). We are going to send out much more detailed communications on both these principles and tools for raising issues of workload related stress in your work areas very soon, but in the meantime, if you would like to become more actively involved with Sheffield UCU's workload campaign then please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pay and promotions campaign
We are working closely with UNISON and Unite on a campaign to improve pay for the lowest paid employees at the University, those on grades 1 - 6. We are also in the initial stages of pressing harder for clearer progression routes for PS staff at all grades. If you’d like to be involved in this work, please get in touch.
National UCU Updates
Solidarity with branches facing redundanices
You may be aware that Liverpool and Leicester are currently undertaking industrial action relating to job cuts and redundancy threats at their respective institutions, and Goldsmiths has recently concluded a long campaign. We send our solidarity to them and all the other branches currently facing attacks on jobs and programmes, and ask members to send messages and signal boost their campaigns in every way that you can. UCU has called on members to greylist the University of Leicester in response to these redundancies, and this branch passed a motion at our most recent EGM supporting this. You will have received an email earlier this week describing what this involves, but simply stated, a greylist involves not engaging with the University in any way. If you have any questions, please get in touch. As a branch, we call on everyone to stand beside our Leicester UCU colleagues and participate in this boycott of the University, until they cease these attacks on staff and academic freedom of speech.
USS - Five principles for a resolution of the dispute
While Universities UK have responded to the 2020 valuation by bringing back from the dead a variation of the ACAS proposal from 2018 which prompted cries of “no capitulation” from the membership, UCU have announced five principles for a resolution of the dispute that will guide the negotiations:
Progressive contribution structures to enable more low paid staff to join and stay in USS.
An end to the downward spiral of contribution increases and cuts to retirement income.
The fund weighted towards return-seeking, ethical investments.
Commitments from employers on covenant support, governance reform, and lobbying for regulatory change.
Exploration of conditional benefits on terms acceptable to UCU members.
Individual employers are currently being consulted on whether they back the UUK proposal, and the future of this industrial dispute - currently hanging in the balance - should become clearer when we find out whether they support another attempted attack on members’ benefits.
TUC Long Covid Survey
The TUC have launched an online survey for workers who are experiencing or have experienced Long Covid. They want to better understand your experiences at work and what additional workplace support you feel is needed.
Long Covid is an issue of concern for the union movement as ONS data has revealed that 1 in 5 people who’ve tested positively for Covid-19 have had symptoms that have lasted for 5 weeks or longer and that 1 in 10 have had symptoms for 12 weeks or longer. With over 4 million people having tested positive for Covid-19 those experiencing Long Covid could be as high at 800,000.
March branch news: 2021-22 HE pay claim, gender pay gap claim, and restructures
April Professional Services member’s meeting - Wednesday 23 April, 1-2pm (please note this is a change to the previously advertised time.) Our PS member meetings are getting bigger and bigger as time goes on, and are generating important local member-led campaigns around pay and progression for PS staff (see below for more details). Come, and bring a friend! Register using this form.
Please hold the date for our annual general meeting, Tues, June 1 from 1-2 pm. Also, If you're interested in being on the branch committee, holding an officer position, or otherwise getting more involved in the branch, please get in touch. The current members of committee are happy to answer any questions you may have, and we are very keen to have more members be involved! There are 6 ordinary member positions on branch committee, which provide an excellent opportunity to learn more about the workings of UCU on a local and national level. You can find a complete list of branch committee positions here. If you do decide to run for a position on the branch committee, please submit this form by 4 May.
Local SUCU News
Restructures and job security updates
As we described in our email to you earlier this week, UEB is pushing ahead with an escalating programme of restructures across the university despite significant concerns raised by the staff who are directly affected, staff in related work areas, and the trade unions. We have called a meeting for all staff - union members and non-members - to discuss this on Thursday 1st April at 1pm. Restructures impact the entire university community, and we want to have a full discussion, with as many members as possible, about how to best stand with our fellow staff members who are ‘in scope’ for these restructures, and to communicate our concerns to the university. Over 350 people are signed up so far - please register here and come along so we can discuss and plan together.
In 2017, UCU and the other staff trade unions submitted a joint claim on the university’s gender pay gap. We called for an equal pay audit, joint analysis of the results and the development of an action plan to meaningfully tackle discrimination and inequality. In response to this claim, UEB agreed to form a Gender Pay Gap Working Group including trade union representation, and this group has spent four years analysing the gender pay gap and its complexities, and reporting to the University Executive Board and Council. Throughout this time, our UCU reps have continually argued that data gathering is insufficient, and the university must commit to concrete actions to address the gender pay gap, and as of December 2020, UEB has committed to eradicating the gender pay gap, and publishing interim progress markers towards that end goal towards which they can be held accountable. We will continue to push the university to reaffirm this commitment, to not delay in actions that can address this inequality, and to also take concrete actions to address the race and disability pay gaps that persist at the university.
To read more detail, please see this blog post which was published this week on the work to date of the Gender Pay Gap Working Group.
There is always scope for increasing our work on Equality-related issues and we have recently instituted a monthly catchup for all departmental or faculty based ED&I reps and others interested in advancing equality, diversity and inclusion. The aim of this group is to develop grassroots connections between ED&I reps and activists that the university’s hierarchical structures sometimes mitigate against. If you’d like to get involved, please email email@example.com or sign up at this Google form. The next meeting will be on Tuesday, 27th April at 2pm.
SUCU participated in the very good meeting Unite the Union has been organising on a Just Transition on 10th of March. Our branch is aiming to organise more joint meetings and training events to deepen our cross-union and student-staff work. The annual meeting of Green Reps is happening on 17th of March and we will report back after that, but in the meantime, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, to get more involved!
Academic Related, Professional Services update
We held our March monthly meeting on 9 March, which was as usual, well attended by staff. These meetings give PS staff a chance to discuss issues relating specifically to their work areas. All PS and Technical staff members are welcome and the next meeting is on 23 April - sign up below. In addition to the regular meeting, we also held an Action Group on the subject of pay and promotions on 23 March. At this meeting, we agreed some actions to take a campaign forward, including setting up a working group to collate information and plan a strategy to lobby the University to develop a more consistent approach to PS staff retention. If anyone would like to be part of this, or help to collate information from their work areas, all help would be gratefully received. Please email email@example.com
Covid and health and safety updates
Many thanks to the member in Law who brought to our attention a proposed change in legislation likely to come into force in May 2021, which would see workers as well as employees protected under s44 of the Employment Rights Act. You can see the draft legislation here and read the piece from an employment law blog that we were sent here. This is good news for precarious workers in all sectors. If you’d like a refresher on the difference between workers and employees, see the Acas site here.
National UCU updates
Last week UCU, along with the four other unions which make up the New Joint Negotiating Committee for HE Staff, published the 2021-22 pay claim, and today, the HE negotiators have their first meeting with UCEA to discuss our employers’ response. We strongly encourage members to read the pay claim and understand what the unions are asking for in terms of our pay and working conditions. The unions and UCEA are in agreement about the fact that our pay has declined in real terms to a significant degree over the last decade, and inequalities and workload concerns remain very pressing for all staff in HE. Despite this agreement, we do not see evidence that the employers are willing to take concrete actions to redress these issues.
The consultative ballot on the 2020-21 pay ‘offer’ (there was no offer) that was open earlier this year was decisively rejected by the membership - 86% of voters. As a result, UCU’s Higher Education Committee have sought feedback from branches at branch delegate meetings in February and more meetings are planned for later this month. We will be sending delegates and seeking further feedback from members on the next steps the unions should take on this, particularly in relation to the link between the current year’s pay claim and our outstanding dispute.
USS has recently released the results of the valuation conducted in March 2020, with projected increases in contribution costs that are unaffordable to both members and employers. They have also very recently rejected a formal request from UUK to revisit the valuation. Please see this blog from Leeds UCU on the state of affairs with USS, and this recent USS Briefs piece by Sam Marsh. We are waiting to see how UUK will respond to the rejection by the trustee of a review of the valuation, and should get some ideas of their thinking in papers for a consultation of employers we expect them to publish shortly.
The results of the NEC election results are in, and can be viewed here. Many thanks to all of you who voted. Locally, we continue to have representation on the NEC via Robyn Orfitelli - congratulations to her on her re-election and commiserations to Mark Pendleton for not being re-elected this time.
Annual Meeting of Casualised Members
The annual meeting of casualised staff took place Saturday, 13th March. Great to see about 60 committed union activists fighting for better conditions for us across the country. Ben Purvis and Steffan Blayney were our elected delegates. The motion to Defend the Four Fights that the anti-cas team (Steffan, Will, Elena) submitted was passed unanimously. It is incredibly important that everyone in the union understands that without any action on this, many of us will lose their jobs for the second time within the last twelve months. Other important motions that were passed addressed “Subject to Funding Contracts”, an issue that has been endemic at ScHARR especially, and a motion to ensure that Climate Action is indeed a progressive demand and not one used against casualised members. You can see all of the motions here. The five excellent workshops brought casualised members together to plan action on dangerous pressure to take on face-to-face work, get union recognition in outsourced and private education providers, and holiday pay for hourly paid staff. Elena and Alex Kirby-Reynolds (both also PandemicPGRs) facilitated a workshop on the “PGRs As Staff” campaign. This follows a motion submitted by PandemicPGRs last year that recognises the main job of PGRs - their original research - as labour and demands employment rights (wage, paid holiday, sick pay, union recognition etc), accordingly. The next step for this demand is to develop a manifesto outlining what wins in the short and medium term would look like. To get involved please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ARPS annual meeting
This took place on Thursday 18 March, attended by Jess Meacham (who chaired much of the meeting in her capacity as Vice Chair of the ARPS Committee), Eleanor Madley and Amy Ryall from the branch. The meeting opened with an address from UCU President Vicky Blake, herself a PS member at Leeds (when not seconded to UCU) which acknowledged the vital work that PS staff have been doing over the course of the last year, to keep Universities going. We then heard from colleagues from speakers across the country on the topic of ‘Finding the silver lining in the cloud’ which discussed responses to the pandemic and what we could take as positive from the last year. Speakers acknowledge some of the benefits of online communications and learning and the impact that could be seen on widening participation in higher education. They also cautioned against too much reliance on online ways of working and highlighted that the overall issues in HE, of workload, government attacks on the sector, student applications amongst others, were still very much in evidence. The formal business of meeting heard five motions, including our own motion Support for branches pursuing the model claim, for UCU to provide more central support for branches pursuing the model claim for improving pay and promotions prospects for Professional Service staff. There were also important motions on the safety of Library staff, and three from the ARPS committee on working from home, a new name for the ARPS committee and the resumption of the Love Our ARPS campaign. All of these motions were passed and will now go either to UCU Congress or to the Higher Education Committee. This part of the meeting also voted in the new ARPS committee which now includes Eleanor Madley and Amy Ryall from the branch. It ended with small group discussions about what UCU can do to support ARPS staff during the pandemic. Suggestions included work on questions to ask employers when they are thinking about return to campus and/or future remote working, to support staff trying to navigate how employers are dealing with this and more work on the recruitment of Professional Services staff.
February Branch News: Restructures, USS, and more
February has been a busy month. We have written to the University to express concern about the number of staff currently affected by what are euphemistically called ‘change processes’ - reviews, restructures, and risk of redundancy. We are currently supporting staff in teams and departments across the institution with our colleagues in Unison and Unite, and many of you will know people who are going through this and experiencing the associated stress and anxiety.
You may remember the last widespread set of restructures undertaken by the University Leadership in 2017-2018, impacting professional services members across the entire university. Along with the other staffside trade unions, we repeatedly expressed significant concerns about not only the scale of these restructures, but the lack of consultation, and the extensive damage that it did to the staff and work areas under scope, which persists to this day. We do not want to see a repeat of this process.
As we approach the anniversary of the first UK lockdown, we want to be very clear: the University’s decisions in responding to the crisis, including the current proposed change processes, have directly contributed to worsening the situation for all of us. From the cuts that were made last summer to colleagues on fixed term contracts or casual agreements, to the s188 consultation that threatened us all with ‘fire and rehire’ and now to a sweeping programme of job insecurity, the response from our senior managers has been to be to praise our exceptional efforts on the one hand and reward us via threats to job security on the other. We are doing everything we can to secure good outcomes for our members.
We will be holding a series of meetings over the coming weeks to discuss the current restructures, our best collective next steps, and how members across all work areas can help support those impacted by this process. Please keep an eye out for notices on them, and attend if you possibly can.
We are holding several other meetings this month. Save the dates!
Action Group on USS Wednesday 10th March 1-2 (Register to attend here)
Equalities meeting for any member interested in being involved in SUCU equalities work, 16 March 2:15pm (Register to attend here)
Action group on Professional Services Pay and Progression: The crisis of deskilling and downgrading
Tuesday 23rd March 1-2 (Register to attend here)
Health and Safety update
While we await further information on how the recent government ‘road map out of lockdown’ will be implemented in HE in general and Sheffield in particular, we have been consulted on updated risk assessments across our work areas. Our health and safety advice has not changed since our last update - If you are aware of any breach of risk assessments or non-compliance with Covid safety measures you should report these formally. You can report accidents, incidents, near-misses (a near-miss includes breaches of Covid measures like social distancing or mask wearing, except where people are exempt) and dangerous occurrences here. It’s important that these are reported promptly when they occur. You are also reminded of the procedures for removal from dangerous situations, and UCU’s updated suite of letters that members might like to adapt if your circumstances are such that face to face working puts you at risk. UCU have also just updated their Covid-19 guidance for academic related & PS staff.
With the other campus unions we carried out a health and safety inspection of Western Bank and the Information Commons in the last week of February, and will report our findings back to the University.
National UCU update
The consultative ballot on whether or not to accept UCEA’s offer of a real terms pay cut has now closed. Delegates from the branch attended a branch briefing session immediately after the EGM we held to discuss the offer on 12th February. Thank you to everyone who attended that meeting or sent in your thoughts by email - we heard a lot of feedback from you, ranging from considerable anger over the continued erosion of our pay and the refusal from UCEA to engage fully with the equalities-related elements of the pay claim to a general sense of exhaustion at the prospect of further industrial action in the immediate future. That feedback has been shared, and UCU’s Higher Education Committee will decide the next steps.
Interim online Congress was held over two days this month as well. Your branch delegates were Sam Marsh, Katy Fox-Hodess, Amy Ryall, Elena Simon and Jess Meacham, and we will try to write a full delegates’ report if time and workloads allow as soon as we can. In the meantime, you can view the motions that were carried (and a couple that fell) here. We’d like in particular to draw your attention to motions concerning how the union handles instances of sexual violence and supporting survivors, one of which came from Sheffield (motions 21 to 23) and late motion 2, which argues for new H&S related policy. There are lots of other good motions in there too so please do read them!
Elections to UCU’s National Executive Committee have closed and the results will be announced on Monday, 8 March- we hope that many of you were able to vote and we look forward to seeing the new NEC line up soon.
USS valuation announced
USS this week revealed what they see as the final contribution rates resulting from the 2020 valuation, and they are staggeringly high, with total contributions somewhere between 42% and 59% of salary. Early signs are that employers may be as unconvinced as many members are that this represents a realistic assessment of the situation, which could put USS under significant pressure to reassess. Come to our USS-themed Action Group on Wednesday 10 March, 1-2pm to hear the latest.
We held the monthly meeting for PS members in February and agreed delegates to the annual meeting and a motion that will support branches across the sector who represent PS staff to submit claims around pay and progression. If you’re interested in getting involved in this work, come along to an action group on 23th March to discuss it further!
The increasing use of fixed term contracts for Professional Services staff was raised during the February PS meeting. If any PS members are interested in getting involved in existing anti-casualisation work going on in the branch then please let us know.
SUCU Equalities work
Over the past year, SUCU has been working to expand our network of members involved in organising around equalities issues. For this year’s UCU annual week of action against workplace racism, our Sheffield UCU Anti-Racism working group wrote a series of blog posts on embedding anti-racist work in education, social movements, and unions, culminating in a Wall of Action. If you want to get involved in progressing SUCU’s anti-racist work, please get in touch with email@example.com!
The UCU Disabled Members Standing Committee has recently published an event accessibility checklist, with a specific focus on union events. SUCU is looking for members who want to be involved in developing proposals around accessibility in our work. If you’re interested in getting involved, please get in touch.
More broadly, if you want to get involved in Sheffield UCU equalities work of any (or all) types, there will be a general equalities meeting to discuss ongoing and new campaigns on 16 March, at 2:15pm.