May-June Branch Newsletter
Welcome to the May/ June edition of SUCU branch news, which is another bumper edition. We don’t have any ordinary general meetings planned for July and August, in line with our usual meeting schedule, but given how busy the branch is with work relating to the ongoing impact of Covid-19, we do expect to be calling more Extraordinary General Meetings soon. Please do keep an eye out for those if you are not on annual leave, and if you have any questions or comments on any of the items here, please get in touch.
Covid-19 updates: job losses and cuts
We continue to meet with the University on a weekly basis, alongside UNISON and Unite, to discuss the changes that we’re all experiencing as a result of Covid-19. We have significant concerns about the scale and pace of the decisions being made in response to outcomes that are not yet known.
On 10th June the University opened another Voluntary Severance Scheme (VSS), the third such scheme since 2009. The campus unions were given just 24 hours’ notice of the scheme opening and we were not consulted on its terms. Long-time members who remember previous schemes will be aware that the terms are less generous than they have been at some points in the past, and we advise anyone considering applying to the scheme to consider their options very carefully.
We are extremely concerned about the non-renewal of fixed term contracts and the potential impact on GTA roles as a result of the financial planning for next year currently being undertaken. Please see below for further details on how to support casualised colleagues in your work area. This forms part of a wider cost-cutting exercise in which budgets are being slashed across the institution and we fully appreciate that these are very anxious and uncertain times.
The University is required to do everything it can to make savings before it pursues compulsory redundancies and we will be scrutinising those efforts as closely as possible. We recently made a formal request for the financial information that we need in order to do that properly, and to which we are entitled under our recognition agreements.
As we move towards a planned return to some face-to-face teaching in September, we are conscious that members may have concerns relating to their health, workloads, childcare or other factors. We are working closely with the University on all aspects of health and safety arising from the return to work and we want to accurately represent the concerns you might have in those areas, so please do get in touch with us about this.
Casual and fixed-term contract organising updates
Members in departments across at least two Faculties are beginning to hear either that their fixed-term teaching contracts will not be renewed or that casual work they might have expected to undertake as GTAs is unlikely to be available next year. Thank you to all of you who have drawn attention to this on social media, solicited support from your students, and worked with the branch on developing a toolkit for resisting these changes. You can follow #PrecarityStories on twitter for personal testimony from affected members, much of which is harrowing reading. Please do everything possible to support casualised colleagues if you are on an open-ended contract.
Research-focused staff on fixed-term contracts are coming up against specific challenges in the face of drastic cuts and changes being implemented by the university – in particular grant and visa issues. A group of ECRs in the Interdisciplinary Centre of Social Sciences (ICOSS) has been discussing ways of responding to these challenges, and would like to reach out to other fixed-term researchers in similar positions across the university. To do this we are creating a mailing list, so if this is relevant to you please fill out this google form. (Please note: the date of 2020 that appears on the form can be modified as needed!). Data submitted on this form will only be used for the purposes of creating the mailing list and for better understanding the problems that are faced by fixed term researchers. All processing of data will be in line with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
If you’d like to contact us directly, please email Caroline Metz at email@example.com.
You may have seen recent coverage in the local press of both these job losses and the voluntary severance scheme. The University is one of the largest employers in the city and job losses here have a knock on impact elsewhere. We were pleased to see that local MPs have written to Gavin Williamson recently to demand that the government do more to financially support the sector, and we’d urge you to make as much noise as you can about the likely impact of these losses: not just on our colleagues and friends, but on our students, and on the wider community.
Please have a look here at our toolkit for organising against the loss of casualised contracts and please get in touch with us if you have any questions or would like support from the branch committee on this.
On a national level, Corona Contract are working to solidify support for casualised jobs across branches and you can see more about the campaign on their website or follow on twitter. Please do support it: the loss of work for thousands of people in the early stage of their careers will be devastating for the sector.
Support for international PGR students
Please have a look at a letter written here by international PGR students and consider supporting.
Report back from branch Annual General Meeting (AGM)
On 4th June we held our AGM, which heard reports from the outgoing branch officers and the election of the new branch committee. Many grateful thanks to outgoing committee members who have put in a huge effort supporting the work of the branch over the years: Gill Brown, Miriam Miller, Lauren Selfe, Rob Stanton, Emma Nagouse and Grace Whitfield, and a warm welcome to members elected at the AGM or co-opted since the last one, Elena Simon, Caroline Metz, Andrea Genovese, Tim Herrick and Lisa Stampnitzsky.
We also discussed and passed a motion of support for a citywide initiative twinning with Nablus in the West Bank.
We need to alert you to a change to the subscription rates that wasn’t mentioned in the treasurer’s report at the AGM: the fourth subs band break has been raised from £20k to £22k, which means that members earning between £20k and £21,999 will see their subs reduce from £20.49 (£20.32 excluding the political fund) to £13.12 (£13.02), including the local subs. If you know anyone in this salary range who might be tempted to join at this news, please let them know.
Professional Services (PS) staff meetings
We continue to hold meetings for all PS members on a monthly basis and held the most recent one on Wednesday 24th June. The next dates are scheduled for 31st July and 27th August, both 1 – 2pm, and PS members will receive invitations and reminders nearer the time.
These meetings provide a forum for PS colleagues to get together and share concerns and discuss upcoming issues. Please go along to one if you haven’t yet, or tell other colleagues in your work area about them if you’re already a regular. We often hear that PS colleagues don’t feel fully represented by UCU and this is our main forum locally for rectifying that.
We are very keen to hear from any PS colleagues interested in being co-opted on to the branch committee, since for the first time in many years PS members are currently under-represented. Please get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com if you’d like to get involved.
Black Lives Matter and anti-racist organising
On 11th June we held an EGM to discuss Black Lives Matter and antiracism work at the University and within UCU. The meeting heard from speakers from the BAME staff network here at the University and from Sheffield BLM, before discussing the various ways that UCU members can support antiracism work at Sheffield. A range of actions and outcomes were agreed and committee members will take those forward. Do get in touch with us if you would like to help with work on this.
We will be hosting a workshop led by members of the BAME staff network – watch this space for more details and further information soon.
You may be interested in following the Sheffield BLM Facebook page.
TUC survey on BME workers and coronavirus
The massive and disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on black and minority ethnic workers has become clear in recent weeks. The TUC need your support to enable BME workers to share their experiences of unfair treatment and racism at work during this crisis. Please complete this survey and share with other BME colleagues.
Dispute updates and fighting fund levy
At the AGM, we also reported on the current status of the disputes with Universities UK and UCEA that have been ongoing throughout this academic year. UCU’s National Executive Committee met on the 8th June to decide the next steps in the dispute, which have been laid out in an email to all members from the General Secretary dated 11th June. We will be sending further updates ahead of the expected ballot on the Four Fights offer and the Sector Conference to determine the future of the USS dispute.
You will also have seen the recent emails from the General Secretary about the fighting fund levy. We intend to bring this to our next branch meeting to discuss a collective response to the announcement there, in the hope of seeking to avoid lower-paid and casualised colleagues being disadvantaged by it.
Disabled Members Forum – Thursday, 9 July, 2pm to 4pm
The three main campus trade unions, Unison, Unite and UCU, have been concerned for some time about significant issues disabled staff face at the university. These range from a general lack of awareness of disability by line managers, inconsistencies in access to and timeliness of reasonable adjustments, and more. Covid-19 has exacerbated these long term issues. We are engaged in current plans to create an institutional disability action plan, however we recognise that this needs to address the issues our disabled members face. Before formal consultation begins shortly, we have jointly called a cross trade union meeting to discuss the development of the action plan, Covid-19 and any other issues disabled staff at the university are facing. This meeting will be held via Zoom. Please register here, including any specific adjustments you need to facilitate your participation. We also encourage you to circulate this information to fellow disabled colleagues.