March Branch News: A new round of pay negotiations
Wondering what the latest news is on a particular campaign or issue? All of our monthly branch newsletters are archived online, or you can search our archived blog posts for more detailed reporting on specific campaigns.
- 3 April: Action Group focusing on developing civil society links with Palestine and setting up a local group in support. This action group arose out of a motion which was passed unanimously at our last branch General Meeting. Please come along! 1-2pm in Hicks F24
National UCU News
As of 15 March, the Joint Expert Panel closed submissions for its second phase, which will focus on the governance of USS. We know that an extensive set of submissions was sent in, including this clear and detailed submission from Felicity Callard (Birkbeck, UoL) and Nick Hardy (University of Birmingham), and we expect the JEP’s second report, when it comes out, to be extremely informative.
Members may also be interested in reading the University of Sheffield’s official response to the UUK consultation on USS, which was based on the hard work of our local USS working group, and released earlier this month.
The response makes it clear that our current predicament is due to the recalcitrance of USS, and is in line with similar sentiments expressed publicly by several other universities, including Oxford. It now remains to be seen whether the transparency deficit shown by Bill Galvin and the USS trustee will continue. The trustee board met yesterday to finalise the 2018 valuation. We may not know anything immediately, but there is a Joint Negotiating Committee meeting scheduled for next Wednesday, and we expect to hear more then, if not before.
This week, the 5 HE trade unions that are part of new JNCHES submitted our 2019-2020 joint claim, to which the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) has responded:
“The employers open the negotiations, on behalf of the participating universities, with an initial envelope for discussion of 1.3% across all the elements of the pay claim.”
We are floored by the utter disrespect shown by not only this pay offer, which would represent yet another real terms pay cut, but also by the employer once again ignoring our requests to seriously address pay inequality, casualisation, and the sector workload crisis. As the VC of this university, and a board member of UCEA, we expect Prof Koen Lamberts to stand against the continued degradation of pay and working conditions in HE by speaking out against this insulting offer. To this end, we have written the attached letter.
In the letter, we say: “Staff morale and goodwill is dangerously low and falling.” This is an understatement. The 2018 Staff Staff survey saw a decline in ratings on 74% of questions, with the largest declines coming from questions about university leadership. There are departments in which staff confidence regarding the direction of the university, and satisfaction with the level of respect shown to staff by leadership have dropped into the teens. We are at a crisis point, and if our employer wants to avoid irreparable harm, they need to reverse years of damaging policies.
This month, HESA have released financial data for 2015-2018 into the public domain. The employer has repeatedly claimed that our pay cuts are due to ‘times being tough’, while simultaneously diverting funds to new, expensive building projects, and initiatives that benefit the highest levels of management.
We will be scrutinising this data, and those claims, quite closely.
This month Further Education colleges across the country were striking over pay, including locally at Bradford. Conditions in FE have been eroded even harder than those in HE over the last decade, and we stand in solidarity with UCU members who are taking action.
Even closer to home, teachers at Bradfield School were on strike on Wednesday over proposed redundancies and cuts. We know that our members include parents of students at Bradfield, and we send our support to all teachers, pupils and parents affected by the proposed changes. The picket was lively and well-attended.
Thanks to all of you who came along to our VP hustings event in February, or who tweeted or emailed questions to the candidates. Vicky Blake of Leeds UCU was elected VP, which means she will serve a four year term on the UCU presidential team. We were also delighted that Jo Grady, our pensions officer, was elected to the NEC, along with many other excellent branch activists. You can view the full results of the elections here.
You’ll be aware that Sally Hunt resigned her position as General Secretary at the end of February on the grounds of ill health, and that an election process will be underway shortly to replace her. We wish Sally all the best for the future, and will be in touch again about the General Secretary election once nominations for the position have closed on 8 April.
UCU’s annual meeting will be held in Harrogate at the end of May, and the first report of the Congress Business Committee (i.e. an initial order of business) has been published – you can read it here. Sheffield is as usual sending a full complement of branch delegates, who were elected at our last General Meeting following an all-member call for nominations. Our proposed rule change and both of our motions, which were voted on at our last GM, have been ordered onto the Congress agenda. (The minutes and motions from our March GM are available here).
If you get a chance, please have a look at the motions that we’re expecting to debate at Congress and let us have any feedback or thoughts on any of them. We would be very happy to devote an action group or part of our upcoming 9 May GM to discussion of Congress motions.
The interim report of the Democracy Commission will be taken to Congress, and the order of business in the above section contains some important rule changes that will be voted on there. The Democracy Commission has worked hard this year to propose changes to UCU’s structures that will increase accountability, transparency and the voice of rank and file members within the union, and we’ll be holding a branch meeting shortly to discuss this and any other ideas you might have for how we can continue to work to improve things – both at national and local levels.
Local SUCU News
Get involved: UCU Rep 1 training
Interested in learning more about UCU, campaigning, and how to put your trade union rights to work in your department? UCU offers an excellent series of training courses for branch activists and reps who want to become more involved in UCU’s work, which are covered in your membership fee, and also include reimbursement for travel and childcare costs. The introductory Rep 1 training course scheduled regularly throughout the year, and there is an upcoming session in Leeds from 8-10 May, which still has places available. If you plan to register for the course, please contact us at email@example.com to let us know; as a member of UCU, you have a statutory right to time off to engage in protected union activities, including training, and we are happy to support you in securing your statutory right to time off.
USS Grievance Update
We have now met four times with members of HR and the University Executive Board, and have a fifth meeting planned, to discuss our local grievance on USS. This was passed at an extraordinary branch meeting via a member-led motion. As a reminder, the demands of this grievance are:
- A one-time pay award to all members who participated in the 2018 USS strike, to come from the existing University of Sheffield financial surplus.
- Renewal of management’s commitment to use the strike pay deductions to support students as agreed by representatives of UCU, the SU, and UEB in June 2018, and complete transparency over how this money has been spent.
- An apology from the Office of the Vice Chancellor.
We are pleased to report that the University has agreed to our second demand, and has made a spreadsheet outlining the use of strike pay deductions publicly available. We are continuing to negotiate with the University regarding our other demands, and will be able to update you soon.
REF: EGM, Action Group, and Code of Practice consultation
On 8 February we held an Emergency General Meeting on REF 2021, following the announcement that universities will be allowed to submit to the REF research ‘outputs’ produced by staff who have been made redundant. The meeting included a very thoughtful and detailed discussion of output portability, impact case studies, the misuse of internal stocktake exercises, and a growing sense that any version of the REF, however organised, is not fit for purpose. The EGM also unanimously passed a motion on REF portability.
As we reported at last week’s Action Group on REF, members of the branch committee were also invited to a consultation earlier this month on the University’s draft Code of Practice for REF 2021. The Code of Practice sets out how the University will identify individuals and ‘outputs’ for submission to the REF. We were glad finally to be consulted on the development of the draft code, and we pressed for the University to undertake institution-wide consultation on this important document. We are pleased that the University has today published its draft code on its website, and is soliciting feedback from individual members of staff, as well as from departments, faculties, and committees. We strongly encourage members to send feedback on the draft code to firstname.lastname@example.org by the deadline of 1 May 2019. If you would like to do so, please also cc email@example.com when sending feedback, so that we can identify areas of concern to raise in our next meeting with the University on this issue.
We are pleased that the Code states that the University will not submit the ‘outputs’ of former staff who were made redundant whilst holding permanent contracts, or were part way into a fixed-term contract. We are very disappointed, however, that the University has flatly rejected our request – passed unanimously at our EGM in February – that ‘outputs’ produced by any former member of staff should not be submitted without the consent of the former staff member.
We have also proposed that the University incorporate two ‘no detriment’ clauses into the code:
- “The scores assigned to individual outputs in the course of REF stocktakes and the final output selection process will not be used by the University as a measure of research performance of an individual member of staff, will not lead to any contractual changes, and will not be regarded as material to the University’s probation, promotion, or hiring procedures.”
- “Submission or non-submission of staff on ‘research-only’ contracts will not be used by the University as a measure of research performance of an individual member of staff, will not lead to any contractual changes, and will not be regarded as material to the University’s probation, promotion, or hiring procedures.”
The University expressed some openness to these proposals, and is currently considering the wording we have proposed. You may wish to comment on this in your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.
An early date for your diary – Sheffield will be hosting May Day events for the first time in many years this year. On Saturday 4th May, please come down to Devonshire Green for a march and rally at 1pm, with speakers including Len McCluskey of Unite. The rally will be followed by events at Dina on Cambridge Street, with a panel debate on ‘economics for the many’ with speakers including Labour MP Rebecca Long-Bailey and New Statesman economic commentator Grace Blakeley, and food and music stretching into the evening. We’re really pleased to be supporting this event and will be there with the branch banner – it would be great to see lots of our members out supporting and celebrating Sheffield’s labour movement and working class history.
LGBT+ Research Conference
UCU’s LGBT+ research conference will be held at the University of Manchester on Friday 17 May. Find out more, and register online here.
Annual General Meeting
Our AGM will be on Thursday 6th June, at 1pm in the Council Room in Firth Court. Please put the date in your diaries! The AGM covers a range of important business, including elections of the branch committee and branch officers for next year, an annual report from the treasurer, and updates on important aspects of branch work.
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 – we’ll be sending out information about the nomination processes nearer the time of the AGM but are always happy to talk informally about it too.