The below email was sent to VC Koen Lamberts and Head of HR Ian Wright on 20/09/23, following emails sent on 14/09/23 and 19/09/23 which offered opportunities for them to meet with Sheffield UCU to attempt to resolve the dispute. We have offered several examples of potential routes to finding a resolution, and we will keep members updated with any new developments.
Dear Ian, Koen (cc UEB),
We are still awaiting a response to my emails of Friday and yesterday inviting you to meet with us. This is disappointing given Monday’s assurance given to all staff that you remain open to seeking a resolution to this local dispute, in which you also indicated you would be willing to hear any alternative means of reaching a local resolution to the strike action which do not breach the University’s principle on partial performance.
Over the last several days, the landscape of Higher Education has been rapidly changing, with numerous HEI management teams engaging with their local UCU branches and reaching a successful resolution. The University of Sheffield currently risks being one of a rapidly decreasing number of universities facing strike action during the first week of term.
There are a wide range of resolutions which have been reached by other institutions. Examples we are aware of include various combinations of the following:
financial settlements that benefit all staff, including those not taking part in the MAB;
financial settlements that benefit groups of staff particularly impacted by the MAB, such as those on casualised contracts;
reduction in numbers of days deducted or the percentage of deductions in return for marking being completed by a given date, alongside commitments to adhering to fair workloading principles;
commitments to review local employment processes and procedures;
commitments to concrete improvement to local employment processes and procedures (e.g. no length of service requirement for access to parental leave)
agreements on initiatives that rebuild team and department relationships;
joint statements on moving forward in the national dispute.
For the avoidance of doubt, and as we have continuously emphasised, we are willing to engage in a creative exchange of potential ideas for a resolution. An agreement incorporating some combination of the above could prove acceptable to our members.
You are no doubt aware that key student-facing services offering financial, immigration, academic, welfare and wellbeing support are severely affected by this action. The Students’ Union has called for both sides to engage in negotiations, and we find it incredibly disappointing that we appear to be the only side committed to this.
We would like to highlight the positive impact on rebuilding local industrial relations that will benefit universities where agreement can be reached. Repairing divisions in our university community should be uppermost in all our minds.
We hope that you will be willing to move diaries as necessary to prioritise a meeting. We are aware that Koen has recently postponed several upcoming visits to departments which may offer some additional availability.
Dear Koen, We are now just a couple of working days away from the start of local strike action at the University, which threatens significant disruption to new students’ induction and first impressions of the institution, and which will set the stage for yet another disrupted semester for everyone. In previous rounds of sector wide action, this university has publicly taken the position that there is nothing that can be done locally to resolve the issues underpinning the action; however, that is not true in this case, and the university has even made it clear in all staff communications that resolving this action is possible, and outlined one step which could be taken to do so.
At our meeting with Ian, Mary and Rob last week, having presented the position we had brought from our branch, they revealed that there was nothing that they were willing to offer to try to avert the strikes. This is hard to comprehend given the scale of what’s at stake. We left the meeting making it clear that we would be happy to meet at any point should you decide that there are matters on which you can engage.
With the strikes set to go ahead next week, we expect to be arranging regular meetings of our membership to discuss developments, which would allow us to put an offer from you to our members, should you be prepared to make one. In that spirit, should you be willing to meet to explore the ground that might lead to a resolution, we reiterate once again that we would be very happy to do so.
Kind regards, Robyn Orfitelli, Branch President, on behalf of the Sheffield UCU committee Cc Ian Wright, Director of HR
I am writing on behalf of the Sheffield UCU Committee, and all University of Sheffield staff within our bargaining group, regarding the UK-wide dispute on pay and conditions which is the source of the current boycott of marking and assessment work by many staff at the University of Sheffield. Below I raise two areas of concern, and we would welcome the chance to meet with you at your earliest convenience to discuss them further.
We have been extremely disappointed in the approach that the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) have adopted in this dispute, including their misuse of HESA data on sector finances. In a press release on 3 May, UCEA cites a sectoral deficit, despite the report it is based on warning that it “is not reflective of the pure underlying financial performance of these institutions for this year”. Instead, as you will be aware, this artefact is caused by a pension adjustment including the demonstrably unrepresentative 2020 USS valuation; absent this paper cost, the sector has yet again posted a sizeable surplus. I’m sure we both agree that these are increasingly difficult times in Higher Education, and it’s crucial for the future of the sector that we find a way to resolve the source of the conflict, for the benefit of all. However, such a misrepresentation of data serves neither staff nor employers, and it stands as an active impediment to ending the ongoing dispute.
Secondly, reaching a healthy resolution is not possible without the resumption of negotiations, which UCEA have continued to refuse, even as recently as Friday, 19 May. There is still time to bring this dispute to a close and avoid major disruptions to students’ graduation and progression, but every day that UCEA makes the active choice to delay makes it less likely that this will be possible.
While this dispute cannot be resolved by negotiation in Sheffield alone, that does not mean that we have no impact on the wider dispute. As a member of UCEA, we ask you to exercise your position as a member to ask them to both cease their public misrepresentation of sector finances and to return to the negotiation table. Just recently, the Universities of Glasgow and Cambridge have made joint public statements calling for the resumption of negotiations, and we are aware of ongoing work at several other universities which may lead to similar statements. We would be very interested in working with you on a similar joint statement, and it would be a reflection of the leadership that this university exercises in our sector.
At a local level, we are very disappointed that the energy of University leadership seems to be focused predominantly on circumventing and mitigating the marking and assessment boycott, rather than on trying to bring the overall dispute to a close.
Our colleagues are rightly standing up for principles of fairness in their employment contracts, and the University’s position on partial performance could lead to significant financial distress by locking them out of their jobs for an extended period, in some cases on the basis of just a few hours of uncompleted work. Further, it seems clear to us that the threat to lock people out of their jobs until a pre-specified date, even where there is no marking and assessment work left for them to carry out, has no basis in law, and we ask that you withdraw your stated intention to do so at the earliest opportunity. Lastly, the recently announced decision to pursue 100% deductions from staff who are not themselves participating in the boycott, but refuse to take on additional marking, is punitive, and may have unintended consequences.
The decisions taken here do not just exist in isolation for the current dispute, they have substantial ramifications for the health and industrial relations of our university moving forwards.
I look forward to hearing from you, and we would welcome the opportunity to discuss the situation with you to seek progress.
Branch President, on behalf of the Sheffield UCU Committee
Like you, I welcome the ACAS-facilitated talks between UCEA and the joint trade unions in the dispute over pay and conditions, and I hope that they are productive and result in an agreement.
Thank you for your summary of UCU’s position on the USS dispute. As you know, we have reconvened the USS Valuation Working Group, the purpose of which (as outlined in the terms of reference) is to collectively aid the University’s understanding of matters relating to the USS pension scheme, and to inform its response to employer consultations in a way that is evidence based and represents the views of scheme members and the University.
The University’s current position on the USS valuation is articulated on the following webpage, which states our support for:
Governance reforms in USS;
Development of lower-cost options, to enable more staff to participate;
The exploration of other measures to support the scheme’s long-term sustainability, potentially including conditional indexation.
The University Executive Board intends to provide an institutional response to the valuation, and for this response to be informed by the collective views of UEB and the USS Valuation Working Group. Clearly, the outcome of the 2023 valuation will be key, but it remains my view that, if the financial health of the scheme allows it, improving member benefits should be the priority.
I look forward to seeing the reports from the USS Valuation Working Group to inform the University’s response to the USS Valuation.
In the wake of the mediated talks with ACAS on pay and conditions that have started today, we have sent the following email to the Vice Chancellor Koen Lamberts to ensure he uses his power as VC to secure a positive outcome for staff in the USS dispute.
We are writing regarding the industrial disputes and strike action that are threatening the integrity of this semester’s teaching and research at the University. There has been positive news on the pay and conditions dispute, with UCEA agreeing to mediated talks at ACAS that began today. Resolution of both disputes is essential to returning our campus to normal operation; thus, we want to ensure that the USS dispute is also moving in a positive direction.
The UCU demands over USS to encompass the following aspects:
The resetting of future accrual to the levels that we saw before the recent cuts,
A retrospective uprating of benefits accrued at the lower rate since April 2022,
Adoption of a modestly prudent methodology for future valuations of the scheme, beginning in March 2023 and continuing onwards.
With the 2023 valuation expected to show significantly lower future service costs than currently being paid and a large surplus (and hence no deficit recovery payments), the objective in (1) is likely to be an immediate consequence of the 2023 valuation and your commitment on the 24 March 2022 to call for an improvement to pension benefits rather than seeking reductions in contributions.
The objective in (2) is (with the possible exception of the DB threshold) possible should the JNC and trustee agree, and can be funded out of a surplus arising in the scheme (for example, out of a 2023 valuation). As such, it is likely to cost the University nothing. Given that the benefit cuts were predicated on a 2020 valuation that this university, and Universities UK as a whole, rightly thought overly prudent, I trust there will be support from you for this outcome.
The objective for (3) is to break the cycle of disruption caused every three years by a triennial valuation methodology that has been described as ‘reckless prudence’. It aims to deliver a true resolution to this dispute, rather than kicking the proverbial can down the road for another few years. The UK Higher Education sector has experienced industrial action over pension cuts every two or three years for more than a decade. Updating a flawed methodology would put an end to a disruptive cycle.
We would be happy to discuss these points with you to ensure that this university is well placed to react quickly to positive developments that could resolve these disputes.
With kind regards,
Sam Marsh & Matthew Malek, on behalf of the SUCU Committee