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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.com, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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 email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org!
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.
January Branch News
In this month’s branch news: an update on the upcoming semester and workload adjustments under the current restrictions; health and safety; upcoming NEC elections; an important industrial action survey that we strongly encourage everyone to complete (those who have participated in the past and those who haven’t!); membership and organising; upcoming events.
Ways to get involved if you don’t have much time:
Come to the General Meeting on 2nd March - we’ll be sending a registration form round soon.
Email your departmental rep/contact ahead of the next reps’ meeting on 23rd February and let them know about any concerns you have
Read branch news! If you don’t have time to come to meetings, keeping up to date with what’s happening is the next best thing
We continue to meet with the University regularly to discuss the response to the current state of the pandemic. The messaging that has gone out from the University around adjustments to workload has been clear that individuals, teams and departments must seek to identify key priorities and recognise that some areas of activity might need to be paused or simply not happen. The feedback that we have received from members in meetings held since the New Year indicates that in some areas this has not been clarified locally, and we urge you all to raise any difficulties you might be having with your line managers in the first instance.
The ongoing restrictions, the partial closure of schools, and the ongoing, horrifying mortality rates of the pandemic continue to form a backdrop to an incredibly difficult academic year. We are intensely aware that many of our members are experiencing increased caring responsibilities, bereavements, the impacts of isolation, and ongoing workload difficulties as we get closer to semester two. Please continue to look after yourselves and each other as best you are able to in these circumstances.
We have been told that staff have been briefed about the likely continuance of remote learning for the majority of programmes for the foreseeable future and that staff are now clear on planning for the coming semester. This doesn’t seem to fit what we have heard from members. Please get in touch with us if you are being asked to plan for multiple modes of delivery up until Easter. Our position has been for some time that the University should announce remote learning for the majority of course at least up until the Easter vacation, and this has only been strengthened by the recent government announcement on schools. Do contact us with your views.
Health and safety update
The University is in the process of updating risk assessments to take into account the new situation with Covid. We are at present significantly concerned about the library sites that remain open and the staff who are working on site, in both library roles and in other areas. We are working closely with the other campus trade unions on this, as we have done since last March.
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.
We have recently held our first meeting for all of the health and safety reps we have across the branch. We now have ten people who have completed initial training in health and safety, which is wonderful news, and as ever if any of you are interested in undertaking health and safety training or getting more involved in this work area we would love to hear from you.
National Executive Committee elections
The elections for UCU’s National Executive Committee opened on the 29th January. As ever, we strongly encourage all of you to cast a vote in these elections. The turnout for national elections is historically very low across union membership as a whole, and the NEC and its subcommittees have significant influence over the direction of the union.
We don’t have a SUCU Committee slate for this year’s election, in part due to the breadth and number of the candidates, and in part due to our own workload pressures. We would encourage you all to read the election statements carefully and vote accordingly.
Industrial action survey
You should have received an email from Jo Grady recently inviting you to complete a survey with your views and feedback on industrial action.
The survey asks members about their participation in previous industrial action, and what will increase participation in industrial action in the future. It covers options for action short of a strike (ASOS) as well as strike action, and it covers demands which the union can include in future negotiations with employers.
To win major UK-wide disputes we need as many members of staff in as many institutions as possible to participate in industrial action. That starts with listening carefully to what members have to say.
Membership/departmental reps update
We held a meeting with departmental reps and contacts in January and it was great to hear from and see so many of you there. We are still looking for departmental reps in some of the central professional services team and certain smaller academic work areas in Medicine, Dentistry and Health - if you are a UCU member in any of these areas and are aware you don’t have a departmental rep, do get in touch with membership officer Katy Fox-Hoddess on email@example.com
We held two action group meetings in January, on green issues and University governance and democracy. Many thanks to all of those who attended - we will be following up in writing with you all soon to progress this work.
The anti-casualisation campaign is going to be holding an open meeting for all members - causal or otherwise - to come and discuss our strategy for tackling the issues affecting casualised workers across the university. The meeting will be at 12-noon on 12/02/2021 and the link is here.
If you are on a precarious contract and would like to be more involved, please consider being a part of our casual rep network please email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, if you are interested in attending the excellent national Members on Casual Contracts meeting please see here for more information (and feel free to get in touch with at the above email address for more information).
Finally, we are aware that a number of Graduate Teaching Assistants who are currently abroad have been denied teaching contracts on the basis that they need to be in the UK to teach. We have followed this up with HR and this is false - you are allowed to teach remotely given it is online teaching. If you are being denied teaching on this basis, please email email@example.com.
Sheffield-Nablus Twinning Initiative
Earlier this month, we held our first meeting of the Sheffield-Nablus trade union twinning initiative, co-hosted by Sheffield TUC. Along with colleagues from UCU at Sheffield Hallam, we are in the process of discussing with university trade union counterparts from An-Najah University in Nablus how best to take the twinning initiative forward. If you would like to get involved, please contact Katy Fox-Hodess: firstname.lastname@example.org.
TUC - is anyone interested in being a delegate to the Trades Council? Please let us know if so by contacting us at email@example.com
Professional Services Members’ Meeting, Thursday 11 February, 12-1
Departmental Reps and Contacts meeting Tuesday 23rd February 1.00 - 2.00pm (link in google calendars already)
December Branch News
As we’re now at the end of what has been one of the most challenging semesters on record, we want to thank all of you for your input over the last few months. This has been an incredibly busy period for the branch, and the fact that so many of us continue to turn out to regular meetings, emergency and extraordinary meetings, and campaigning events and action groups is testament to the commitment and energy of the branch membership. Thank you.
Below is a brief round up of news from the last month and looking ahead to the New Year. We don’t anticipate that things will become much easier as we head into semester two.
At the General Meeting on 24th November we gave an update on the current stage of the grievance that we launched with Unite and GMB over our ongoing health and safety concerns. Since the grievance was submitted, in mid-October, the picture has substantially changed and we are hoping that we can work towards a joint statement with the University that will bring an end to the process.
We have been pleased with the University’s response to some items in the grievance, including the end of face to face teaching in line with government guidelines in early December, our health and safety reps being given access to a directory of all risk assessments across the institution, and a commitment to joint working on plans for semester two.
All of the recognised trade unions have been asked for input into the planning for the spring semester, and we are interested to hear your thoughts. Please get in touch if you have them, and come along to the General Meeting in January (save the date reminders are at the bottom of this email).
We also met the Vice Chancellor recently and raised our concerns with him directly for the first time since the meeting where we were notified of the launch of the s188 consultation in the summer. The Vice Chancellor expressed his view that the consultation was necessary. We disagree, and encourage as many of you as possible to share your views on this and any other matters to the VC.
As ever we encourage all members with health and safety concerns to contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org and any member who would like to negotiate around face to face working of any kind to make use of the template letters produced by UCU, available here.
Health and safety update
More broadly on health and safety, we have discussed the testing programme in some detail with the University. It’s been an enormous logistical undertaking for those institutions participating and the outcomes of both the Winter Covid Plan and Christmas-specific easing of restrictions remain to be seen.
We encourage members to familiarise themselves with information available in the public domain about the testing programme using lateral flow tests, much of which is summarised in the briefing note here.
We continue to raise staff stress and wellbeing (including but not limited to workload) as an urgent concern and encourage those of you who are finding workloads are significantly unmanageable to work with your line manager/Head of Department and other colleagues to ensure that concerns are heard at all levels of the University.
National UCU update
You may remember that an interim online Congress was due to be held in mid-October and was postponed due to technical difficulties. The Higher Education Conference that forms part of this meeting has been rescheduled to 15th December. You can view the motions that were voted on and the results here and we will update and discuss further in January.
There will shortly be elections for UCU’s National Executive Committee. As ever, we strongly encourage members to vote in these elections since the NEC plays a very important role in determining UCU’s actions and strategies. There are a large number of candidates standing this year which is a very positive sign for lay member involvement in UCU’s democratic structures.
You will have seen in updates from UCU HQ that there are now multiple branches across the sector balloting for industrial action over current conditions or otherwise in dispute. Please offer your support as you can.
The programme of events that we put on for Disability History Month were very well-supported, many thanks to those who attended. You might also like to view our new leaflet on reasonable adjustments and rights for disabled staff at work.
You may have seen recently that the University has launched a listening exercise on issues of exclusion and inclusion. This consultation, headed up by the Chaplaincy, has been developed as a first step towards improving University policies dealing with antisemitism and all forms of racism. Reps from the branch committee have been involved in discussions around formulating this exercise and we encourage all of you to take part in the initial survey. . There’s more information including contact details for the project leads here. The branch committee views the listening exercise as a productive means of addressing issues of exclusion at the university, and made clear its view that the University should not bypass proper consultation and rush into an implementation of the problematic IHRA definition of antisemitism which both this branch and UCU nationally have rejected insofar as it conflates the very real problem of antisemitism with legitimate criticism of Israel.
We were deeply frustrated to learn this week that Council did agree to adopt the IHRA definition.
We are also aware that there is work ongoing on experiences of parental leave at the University with a view to reviewing and improving existing provision and support, and we encourage all members who this affects to complete the survey here.
We continue to build our network of anti-casualisation representatives in departments. We are planning a series of training sessions in the new year. If you’re interested in getting involved please get in touch with Steffan Blayney: email@example.com
In September UCU’s special sector conference passed a motion to acknowledge PGR original research as labour and to campaign for the recognition of PGRs as members of staff in order to combat casualisation from the bottom up. A first campaign-launch discussion took place in November. We will continue the discussions locally and UK-wide.If you want to get involved, please get in touch with Elena Simon: firstname.lastname@example.org
Finally we want to express our severe reservations against the UKRI decision to ignore its own research on the effect of the pandemic on PGR colleagues and to not provide extensions for PGRs finishing after 30 March 2021. Please support PGR colleagues in their struggle for crisis mitigation such as funded extensions for all, hardship funds, and fee waivers for self-funded PGRs by raising these issues in your department and faculty and making PGR colleagues aware of campaigns around the issue.
We’re really pleased that branch membership is looking very healthy at more than 2000 members. We are also very glad that our coverage of departmental reps and contacts is now approaching nearly all of our academic departments. If you work in a central professional services team that doesn’t have a UCU rep and you’re interested in hearing more or becoming a rep, please contact us. There are also some academic departments, particularly in MDH, who don’t yet have a rep. The time commitment is low (1 - 2 hours per month) but these roles are crucial to the functioning of the branch. We’re here to support you and there’s no need for prior knowledge or experience, just a commitment to building the union within your department or work area.
If you’re interested in learning more, please contact Membership Officer Katy Fox-Hodess on email@example.com
Please hold these dates for upcoming meetings in the New Year, when registration links will be sent out
Departmental reps and contacts meeting Thursday 14th January 1.00 - 2.00pm
General Meeting Thursday 21st January 1.00 - 2.00pm
Nablus twinning initiative meeting Tuesday 12th January 7pm
SUCU Climate Emergency Action Group, in cooperation with SustCom, Tues 12 January, 1-2pm, join here ; join googlegroup here
As we move ever closer to the end of semester, we’ll be looking forward to taking some well earned time off and treating ourselves, whatever the festive period may look like. Please make sure you take the Christmas closure period to switch off from work and relax. Remember too a motion we passed about making sure we remember to take all our annual leave, so if the conditions are right to extend the Christmas break, do so.
As we take the time to step back, it is important to remind ourselves of how much we have achieved collectively in spite of what this year has thrown at us. We went from sustained strike action to global crisis. We have all gone above and beyond to adapt and change in the face of the pandemic. Not only have we all shown immense resilience, strength and solidarity but we’ve also won significant concessions from University management. Some of the highlights include the agreed “do what you can” working over lockdown in early spring, the withdrawal of the ‘fire and rehire’ consultation under s188, 100% pay for staff on furlough, and the extension of a good proportion of fixed-term contracts that were due to end earlier this year. As ever, there remains much to do.
We’ll be back in the New Year and look forward to discussing our next steps as a branch collectively, including ensuring that the ‘new normal’ doesn’t mean any erosion of our rights at work.
Since the beginning of the semester we have had one of the busiest periods in the branch’s history. In early September we sent a detailed email to members with an update on health and safety, and launched a survey to hear your views. We have held a series of meetings throughout the semester to discuss issues raised by members around the current approach to learning and teaching.
We wrote to University management just prior to the start of the semester outlining five principles that we considered essential for a safe return to teaching on campus. In early October we held an EGM to discuss the branch response to the start of the semester, and at that meeting determined that we would submit a collective grievance along with other campus unions over what remain significant concerns over health and safety on campus. On 10th October that grievance was formally submitted (you can view the text here). The half-term holiday has delayed the process somewhat, but we meet representatives from University management again on Thursday 5th November to seek to resolve the grievance.
On 15th October at our General Meeting, we updated members on the progress of the grievance and presented a motion of no confidence in UEB, which passed overwhelmingly. Turnout at the meeting was higher than we have seen in some years, with more than 300 of you present to hear the discussion. Following the branch vote of no confidence, and requests from numerous members who were unable to attend the meeting, we have made an open letter version of the statement available for any member of the university community who wishes to sign it. Please note that you need to be signed in to your Sheffield address in order to sign. You can find a link to further contextual information here.
We were disappointed to learn on 4th November that there is no intention on the part of University management to alter our provision further. At our next branch meeting we will report back on the progress of the grievance and discuss and determine our next steps.
We want to ensure that all members are aware that we continue to meet the University every week to discuss ongoing issues thrown up both by the Covid situation generally and in terms of health and safety in particular. If you have concerns or questions that have not been covered in our meetings or discussions recently, please get in touch.
National UCU news
At the end of September a Higher Education Sector Conference was held. You can view the motions that were passed at that meeting here.
UCU was due to hold an interim online Congress at the end October. Unfortunately due to technical challenges the event had to be postponed. We will update the branch as soon as we can on arrangements for the rescheduled event.
We finally have the outcome of the new valuation methodology employed by USS, and the results are obscene. In what appears to be an attempt to blackmail employers into allowing the scheme significant influence over institutions’ financial decision-making, USS are threatening total contributions of 68% (compared to just 26% in 2017)! USS claim that they’ve followed the JEP recommendations, but by coupling the JEP-proposed dual-discount rate with a rebadged Test 1 (now referred to as ‘Metric A’) they have engineered massive deficits and sent costs spiralling. It goes without saying that this cannot stand. Our scheme has been hijacked, and all efforts now must be put into getting it back.
Mercifully, University of Birmingham VC David Eastwood stepped down as chair of the scheme last month (shortly after finalising the valuation) and has been replaced by incoming independent director Kate Barker. With two new additions to the board from UCU (Andrew Brown and Helen Shay) and one from UUK (Paul Curran), there is potential for a culture change within USS, though its hugely divisive CEO Bill Galvin remains. Meanwhile, please don’t forget about Jane Hutton - fired from the board last year, and in the process of taking USS to court for unfair dismissal. We hope that justice prevails and anybody responsible for wrong-doing is properly held to account.
We have had a number of productive negotiation meetings with HR on casualisation.
We have made progress on eliminating term time only teaching contracts with a paper based on our proposed changes being submitted to UEB. As a result of successful meetings with management, we are working on establishing a university wide best practice guide for employing GTAs. HR has also agreed with us on the principle that all members of staff need to be included in all staff communications. We are currently working on establishing a set of guiding principles for employing Associate Tutors, Contracted Teaching Assistants and University Teachers including contract length and adequate research time. If you’d like to share your thoughts on this, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
A meeting of fixed-term contract research staff took place in early September, and an open and informal mailing list was set up to discuss issues specifically related to casualised researchers. You can sign up here if you want to be added to the list. One particular concern, is people on fixed term contracts with more than four years of service not being moved onto open ended contracts.
If you have been on a Fixed Term Contract for more than 4 years and have not been moved onto an Open Ended Contract, please get in touch.
Finally, we are still looking for reps to join our departmental casualised rep network. If you want to get involved with issues around fixed-term research and teaching contracts, GTA contracts, TTO contracts, and fractional contracts, sign up here.
Many thanks to those of you who attended the anti-racism workshop hosted by San Gopalakrishnan of the BAME staff network. The session is available to view here - please have a look if you couldn’t attend. If you attended the event, please complete the feedback form available here.
An anti-racism action group was held in early October and further updates on this work will be sent shortly.
Meeting for PS members, 11th November at 1.00pm
Departmental reps and contacts meeting, 17th November at 1pm
General meeting for all members, 24th November at 1pm