Winter Branch News – Finances, insecure employment and more

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Winter Branch News

The university acknowledges that capital spending requires scrutiny and we turn the spotlight on insecure employment.

The Vice Chancellor wrote to all staff last week in an update on the university’s financial position. We were pleased to see a notable change in tone and a reassurance that the university is ‘reviewing all areas of planned expenditure, including our capital spend’, important due to the huge increase in such outlay over recent years. Staffing levels are still the most visible focus of the university’s cost-cutting drive, with the Staff Release Scheme now closed for applications and the recruitment pause extended until late January. We will be keeping an eye out for overstretched staff and asking the university to be clear: do we now do less work or work longer hours?

We continue to press for transparency in the Strategy Delivery Group’s decision making, and were disappointed that our branch request for a union representative on the group was declined. We hear that the most recent financial forecasting has shown a considerably better position than the £35m deficit for 2016-17 quoted on the SDG’s website, but are struggling to get confirmation from the university. January will see the publication of the annual report, which we will be giving full scrutiny, especially figures on capital expenditure and salary increases for top earners.

The pay campaign is officially over, with 57% nationally voting to drop further action. It is a disappointing end, especially given the strong early feeling evident in Sheffield and the weight of evidence in our favour. Our September questionnaire indicated that many members point to tactical errors in the campaign, but it is also clear that universities are prepared to disregard staff anger and impose pay settlements as they see fit. It doesn’t seem like a healthy dynamic, and we urge the university to listen properly to the discontent before it becomes even more damaging to staff morale and society as a whole.

One key prong of the pay campaign was an anti-casualisation drive, and today we launch a website exposing the levels of insecurity felt by many staff in Sheffield, based on our questionnaire for insecure staff sent last month. This follows on from the Guardian’s excellent series of articles on the shameful practice common in the sector. Some of the testimony featured on our site is heart-breaking, with comments such as ‘I absolutely resent the place and what it has done to me’ and ‘I feel worn-down, undervalued, disappointed, helpless, forgotten, so very tired all the time’. We urge you to spend 5 minutes reading about how an often ignored section of the staff at this university are treated. If you know of anyone in a similar position yet to complete the questionnaire, please point them to it. Negotiations with the university are ongoing, and we have had wider interest, including from local MPs.

In March we will be treated to the triennial valuation of the USS pension fund. There is significant possibility that the valuation, done in the way it was in 2014, will show another large, looming deficit. We will be urging our university to pay much more attention than last time to avoid seeing further increased contributions, downgraded benefits and, potentially, the beginning of the end for the defined benefit scheme. Those sufficiently comfortable with figures are strongly encouraged to engage with the issue, which is not widely understood for the scandal it is due to insufficient scrutiny of the decision-making.

Finally, we’ll be a ‘plea for help’ in the New Year, looking for members who can add to the local union’s effectiveness with anything from technical know-how to graphic design skills or event organisation. Those who want to help us make a difference, keep your eyes peeled!

Merry Christmas from the Sheffield UCU Committee

Sheffield Needs a Pay Rise

Sheffield Trade Union Council has brought together various trade unions and community groups representing many workers across the city, to fight for a real living wage for all, of £10 an hour, and for a proper pay rise regardless of age. The campaign is about securing dignity for all, and gives working people a collective voice together that cannot simply be ignored.

There is a demonstration taking place on the Devonshire Green on Saturday 17 December. If you can, please support!

Facebook event:

Senior Management Anti-Marketisation Survey

The National Senior Management Survey is a survey for university staff around the UK to complete about the practices of their senior management team. University staff have their performance measured by narrow metrics – this survey seeks to move the gaze instead to the senior management teams who set the conditions through which staff performance becomes possible. It also provides a counter-point to the National Student Survey, and will lead to a national league table of senior management teams such that regressive and progressive higher education regimes can be made visible. The project is supported by UCU.

The survey takes 5 minutes to complete, and all answers are anonymous.

What Women Want 2.0

What Women Want 2.0 is a national non-partisan campaign which launched last month. Women across the country are being invited to answer one simple question: What do you want? It’s a re-run of a survey from 1996 which sent some powerful messages and influenced government policy.

If you would like to participate, please respond via the web link,

Dates for the Diary

  • Thu 19 January, 13:00-14:00, Departmental Contacts Meeting. UEB Meeting Room, Firth Court
  • Thu 26 January, 13:00-14:00, General Meeting, Council Room, Firth Court
  • Wed 1 February, 13:00-14:00, Action Group (USS special), venue tbc

Interesting reading