December 2019 Newsletter
Thank you for Your Participation!
Many thanks to everyone who participated in this year’s strike action. The tremendous participation on our picket lines, at our rallies, in our teach-outs, at our emergency general meetings and at our end of strike party shows the strength of feeling among the membership on key issues of employment. We are grateful for the support shown by students and staff beyond UCU and in the broader trade union movement. Together, we sent a strong message to UUK, UCEA and our university administration that we are unwilling to accept continued erosion of our pay and working conditions and increased contributions to our pension plan.
Thirty-six additional institutions around the country that were unable to meet the participation threshold in the original pay and/or pensions ballots are now re-balloting for industrial action. This is certain to increase pressure on employer representatives to make meaningful concessions at the bargaining table. However, if sufficient concessions are not forthcoming, UCU may call for a renewed round of industrial action in the new year with a larger number of institutions participating.
Pay Deductions and ASOS
The Vice-Chancellor has agreed that no pay from our eight day strike will be deducted in December, and that for all members, the deductions will be split between January and February and used for the benefit of students, who will be directly involved in the allocation of funds.
Action short of a strike (ASOS) began on Thursday, December 5th. ASOS is a crucial component of our industrial action strategy. Our dispute is still live and ASOS enables us to make this visible beyond the strike, keeping the pressure on key decision makers in our universities and their national representatives in bargaining. In addition, working to contract is a powerful way to highlight the workload component of our pay claim by demonstrating just how much the sector depends on its workforce to work beyond our contracts on a regular basis, creating unmanageable workloads for so many of us.
Members are asked to refuse to undertake voluntary work, not cover for absent colleagues, not reschedule lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action and to work to contract. The union is not currently calling for a marking boycott but may choose to do so as a possible escalation of the disputes in the coming months.
More detailed guidance on ASOS may be found in the national industrial action FAQs (see questions 4-10, and 15), the national UCU information on working to contract, and the national UCU guidance on ‘action short of strike’ for academic-related and professional services staff (please note that this page includes guidance on a marking boycott, which is not as yet actioned). There is also ASOS advice on pp. 3-5 of our local SUCU guidance for members, as well as a template email auto-response for the ASOS period on p. 8. If you have specific questions about how to implement ASOS in your role or department, please contact the branch.
University management have clarified that they do not intend to seek deductions for ASOS. They have indicated that they will be monitoring the progress of the dispute, and that if at any point in the future they change their position on ASOS deductions, they will be in communication with staff in advance. However, we would like to emphasise that we are not aware of any deductions being made for action short of a strike for any of our members in recent memory.
Updates on Bargaining
On Tuesday, UCU negotiators met with UCEA, the employer-side organization that negotiates in our pay dispute, for the second time since the start of our strike action. They reported that our mandate for action is (slowly but steadily) moving the employers in a positive direction. Previously, UCEA has refused to engage with workload, casualisation, and equalities pay gaps on a sector wide level. In the most recent meeting, they began to discuss the type of framework that might be possible on a sector wide level for these issues. There remains a lot of work to do to ensure that any such ‘frameworks’ would have enough weight behind them to bring about real, substantive change, but this represents a significant shift in discussion.
On pay, UCEA has previously claimed to have “no mandate” for alternation to their headline pay offer of 1.8%. After a decade of pay erosion, this represents an untenable and irresponsible position. We know that this erosion is the result of strategic choices being made by our employers, and the health of the sector demands they reverse it by shifting their priorities away from capital expenditure and overseas campuses, and towards staff and students. At the end of Tuesday’s meeting, UCEA agreed to re-consult their member institutions regarding what movement they might be able to make in this area.
As for the USS dispute, the publication of the Joint Expert Panel’s report last week is expected to give new impetus to the talks. The report makes a number of substantial recommendations for change, and states that “a failure to take forward the recommendations in this report would mark a failure for members, employers and the sector”. We’re expecting facilitated discussions on how to implement the recommendations to be the likely next step in the new year.
It is important to note that the resolve of members in the strike action has significantly changed the dynamics of bargaining and progress is being made. The central issue remains the employers’ attempt to increase our contribution rate above 8%. Employers continue to maintain that it is unaffordable for them to pick up the costs to keep this rate down, but the recent release of healthy financial results from many institutions (including Sheffield), in addition to the fact that post-92 institutions are already paying a higher rate, does not bear this out. Negotiators have also been pressing matters relating to the very serious problems concerning governance of the pensions scheme.
Universities UK have attempted in recent meetings to hide behind a “lack of a mandate” from VCs to resolve the dispute. For that reason, it is imperative that we increase the pressure on VCs to force UUK to concede ground. While Koen Lamberts has assured SUCU that he will continue to do everything he can to try to resolve the disputes, we need to see not just words but action in this regard.
Requesting Money from — and Donating to — the Hardship Fund
To help mitigate financial hardship from the strike, there are two sources of support: UCU’s national Fighting Fund and the local SUCU Hardship Fund. The national fund provides strike pay of up to £75/day for those earning under £30kpa, and £50/day for those earning more. You can apply once you have lost pay here.
The SUCU Hardship Fund is for members who have been disproportionately hit financially by taking part in industrial action, e.g. sole-income households, members on hourly-paid, part-time or fixed-term contracts, or due to other personal circumstances. We are encouraging members to apply in the first instance to the national UCU Fighting Fund, as UCU has vastly greater resources nationally than we do locally. However, we recognise that the national Fighting Fund may still leave individuals in hardship, and our local SUCU Hardship Fund can then assist. Application to the fund is via the online form.
We are also appealing for donations to the fund from members and friends of SUCU, and particularly from those unable to take part in industrial action. Please send donations to: account name: UCU Sheffield 70 Hardship Fund; sort code: 60-83-01; account number: 20391171.
Calling Professional Services Colleagues – We’ve Started Regular PS Member Meetings
If you’re feeling a bit isolated and/or want to discuss issues you’re facing as a Professional Services member of staff taking strike action or ASOS (or anything else) come and join colleagues at regular meetings, meet UCU PS members from across the University and build our community.
So far there have been two gatherings, one pre- and one post-strike, each attended by at least one member of our branch committee. Members raised a number of issues, including the inclusivity of strike action and picket lines, the impact of pickets on students, particularly those considered vulnerable and needing to access services, being the only UCU member in a department and the challenges of working with colleagues from other unions. They have been constructive meetings with a supportive atmosphere and those who have attended already (c. 40 members to each meeting) have found them useful. The hope is that they will support Professional Services staff to build networks across the University.
Our next meeting will be on Tuesday, January 14 from 12:00-1:00 in Richard Roberts B79. Please join us if you can and bring along PS colleagues who aren’t in UCU if they’re keen to find out more about it. Tea and coffee will be available and do feel free to bring and eat your lunch.
ACP Promotion Appeals and Action Group
Our January 22 action group meeting will focus on academic career pathways. HR representatives from the university will be in attendance so that members can discuss with them directly any concerns or suggestions on the new framework and their experiences of applying for promotion (or not) this
year. The meeting will be held in Hicks F41 from 1:00-2:00 pm. All members are welcome to attend.
For those of you who took part in the first year of promotions round under the new academic careers pathways and were unsuccessful and unsatisfied with the decision, please note we have negotiated an extension to the deadline for lodging an intent to appeal. Previously, the deadline disadvantaged those taking strike action. The new deadline is 10am on 24 December. Those wishing to appeal will be asked in January to submit supporting documentation. Please visit the following link for further information: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/hr/thedeal/arr#tab01
If you are not sure if you are eligible to appeal but would like to, please lodge an intent to appeal anyway. Your appeal can always be withdrawn but you cannot join the process at a later stage if you have not lodged your intent to appeal before the deadline.
REF Special Cases Panel
Deadlines for the Research Excellence Framework 2020 are approaching, and internally that means that decisions are being made on who to return, what outputs to include, and so on. As part of the REF Code of Practice, Sheffield has developed a process for people to disclose any equality-related circumstances that may mean they are entitled to reductions in outputs, as outlined here. Reasons for these may be family-related leave, illness, disability, caring responsibilities and more. UCU is represented on the committee assessing these applications through our branch E&D officer Mark Pendleton. All disclosures are confidential and used only for the purpose of considering REF outputs. At this stage there are not a large number of applications, so we do have some concerns that not all eligible members have submitted such requests. The final deadline for doing so is 17 January. Should you have any concerns or questions about the process, please contact the branch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Widening Participation and Fair Pay
Like every other university in the country, Sheffield has an obligation to carry out widening participation (“WP”) activities in its local area: activities intended to improve the attainment and inform the higher education decisions of students from demographics which are under-represented at university. These activities are carried out by a wide range of academic and professional services staff, both inside departments and more centrally. Just as with many of the rest of the university’s activities, these activities have been associated with increasing managerialist pressure upon staff in recent years.
Some of the usual pressures simply take the form of a drive towards more detailed reporting. This is originally of governmental origin, and may perhaps be well-intentioned, though its burden on staff has not been analysed. Some of it is of a less welcome kind: a pressure to realign the goals of widening participation with the goals of admissions: from simply providing sales pitches for the University of Sheffield at WP events, to full-scale mergers of admissions activities with reportable WP activities. This is a clear reflection of neoliberal ideology: many staff feel that engagement with the local community is a worthwhile end in itself, but, in the neoliberal university, the only engagement that matters is that which increases the university’s income.
Over the past few months, however, Sheffield UCU has been faced with an unexpected challenge: word got about in several departments that there was an attempt afoot to fix the rates of pay for students delivering subject-specific WP sessions to grades 2 and 3 (depending on whether the session had been designed by the person giving it, or not). In many departments, these had habitually been given by experienced PhD students. Such students, of course, will be paid at grades 6 or 7 for their teaching of undergraduates. It is true that school students are less advanced than undergraduates, but, by their very nature, WP sessions require mentions of university-level topics, and presenting advanced topics in an elementary way is indisputably a skilled job.
After pressure from SUCU, university management relented: PhD students will be paid more appropriately for this work, at grade 6, in future. This particular story has a happy ending, but it does serve to reflect how willing some managers are to undervalue their own business of learning and teaching, if there is money to be saved by doing so.
Report back from Equalities Group Conference
This year’s annual UCU Equality Groups conference was held in Birmingham between 21-23 November. The conference consisted of separate meetings for disabled, black, women and LGBT+ members across the three days, with a joint plenary on the morning of Friday, 22 November. The plenary session heard from our General Secretary Jo Grady, who outlined several priority areas for the equality work of the union over the coming year – continuing to confront sexual harassment in universities and colleges; developing and embedding the new migrant members representative structures to combat the Hostile Environment; and resourcing branches to better understand both the law and union policy and support transgender and non-binary members. Other speakers in this session were the Windrush campaigner Michael Braithwaite; NUS President Zamzam Ibrahim and trans advocate Sam Heyes. We also had a briefing from UCU bargaining and negotiating official Jenny Lennox, who led a session on strategies to address pay gaps.
Our branch was well represented by Themesa Neckles, Jess Meacham, Robyn Orfitelli and Mark Pendleton. We will continue to grow our involvement with the UCU equality structures in the coming year, with Themesa continuing her term on the Disabled Members Committee; Mark being elected to the LGBT+ committee for a two-year term and, since the conference, Robyn being elected as one of two National Executive Committee spots for migrant members. Robyn will work with the equality officials and her fellow NEC migrant rep Dima Chami (Leeds) to create the migrant representative structures, initially through a stand-alone migrant members conference early in 2020. Stay tuned for details of how you can be involved in that. Any questions about this, or other equality and diversity matters, contact branch E&D officer Mark Pendleton at email@example.com.
Report back from USS Conference
Friday saw four delegates from Sheffield UCU attend a special sector conference on the USS dispute, which was called as a result of a motion to this summer’s Congress “to review the position and consider all actions available to UCU to defend USS”. We’re pleased that all motions and amendments put to the conference by Sheffield UCU were passed. The practical outcomes from that conference will be communicated to members by head office as soon as it’s possible to do so, but you can see the motions debated and the publicly available outcomes here.
Report Back from Democracy Commission Congress
On Saturday 7th December the Special Congress to consider the recommendations of the Democracy Commission was held in Manchester. It was a lively day of discussion, and our delegates regret that much of the business wasn’t taken due to lack of time. You can view a full list of what was heard, what fell and what carried here. We are pleased that some changes to the union’s structures have been achieved via the Democracy Commission, and we hope to continue to work on this both within the branch and nationally over the coming months and years. We know that members are interested in this work, and interested in improving our representational structures at local levels, so please do get in touch with us if you’d like to discuss this further and look out for future meetings on work in this area.
Thanks to all our members who supported the Youth Strike 4 Climate again and helped out in organising, banner making and stewarding! It is now more important than ever that we organise on campus and beyond for effective climate action and bring students and staff together.
A first step in that direction took place during our climate teach-out during the strike, from which four campaigns emerged: education for sustainable development; transport and flying; UoS clean energy switch; and food/waste. If you want to get involved in any of these, please get in touch with branch committee member Elena Simon and watch out for Energy Switch’s workshop in January and a teaching week on climate in February 2020.
Another thing you can do is to participate in the consultation process for the University’s sustainability strategy. The publication of the strategy has been delayed until April which gives everyone the chance to build it and make it as ambitious as needed.
Confucius Institute Motion
A member brought a motion to the November branch meeting expressing concerns about possible conflicts of interest between the academic mission of the University and the contract the University has with the Confucius Institute. This was a response to press reports in Australia where the Institute’s practices were simply accepted by certain Australian Universities, with implications for academic integrity and freedom. The motion requires SUCU to ask for a copy of the agreement between the Confucius Institute and the University of Sheffield in order to reassure members this does not contradict the University’s principles of academic freedom. The motion was passed nem com.
A member brought a motion to the November branch meeting in solidarity with the on-going protest movement in Chile against the continuation nearly thirty years later of hardline neoliberal reforms instituted during the Pinochet dictatorship which have produced skyrocketing levels of inequality. The motion additionally condemned the on-going violence perpetrated by the government against protesters. Academic members of the union are asked to add their names to a global sign-on letter available here. In addition, the motion committed the branch to support and promote solidarity activities and events; send a letter of protest to the Chilean government; and make links with universities in Chile in support of academics and students calling for a new constitution and the end of political repression.
Solidarity with Workers and Students in India
Sheffield UCU committee expresses solidarity with workers & students in Indian universities facing serious attacks and violent repression by the Indian state. We join the 10,000+ signatories of a letter condemning in the strongest possible terms the police brutality in Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi, and the ongoing illegal siege and curfew imposed on Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim Universities. With them, we affirm the right of citizens to peaceful protest and the autonomy of the university as a non-militarized space for freedom of thought and expression. The brutalization of students and the attack on universities is against the fundamental norms of a democratic society.
We call on UK university workers to recognize the dangers of the Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) introduced by the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on 12 Dec and to protest accordingly. The Act offers a path to citizenship for Hindu, Jain, Sikh, Parsi, and Christian refugees but not to Muslims. Combined with BJP’s promise to enact a National Register of Citizens across India (a citizenship audit) NRC, this will in effect force Indian Muslims to ‘prove’ their citizenship. Such a move would dwarf the Windrush scandal in the UK and will affect millions of Indians.
We also convey solidarity with JNU lecturers fighting for accessible education for all #UCUStrikesBack #JNU and with Delhi University teachers on strike against casualization #DUTAIndefiniteStrike #UCUStrikesBack.
New Committee Member
Elena Simon has been co-opted to the branch committee as an ordinary member. She has played an active role in UCU’s climate strike organising committee.
Holocaust Memorial Day 2020
In honor of this January’s Holocaust Memorial Day, Sheffield UCU will be hosting a talk by Professor Brian Klug from Oxford University on understanding antisemitism today.