Next week, UCU members will begin taking strike action as a result of an incredibly strong sector wide aggregate ballot. This will see action at 150 Universities across the UK, joined by 19 UNISON branches with a mandate to strike alongside us. Our members are joining unions across the UK in pushing back against extensive long term pay cuts, made even more stark in the face of a cost of living crisis, worsening working conditions, and attacks on our secure retirement.
With UCEA returning to the negotiating table after months of refusing to meet us, and the USS dispute looking more winnable than ever, these three days of action are crucial for demonstrating our strength. We hope to see as many members as possible on our picket lines on the 24th and 25th, and at our Sheffield Rally for Higher Education on the 30th.
We are taking this action on behalf of the whole university community, and we know that our action has an impact, as evidenced by the outcomes of recent local negotiations. We thus wish to make two important corrections to a recent email from HR on the 31st October. 1) This email stated that we have 1600 members; this is in fact the number of ballotable members, which does not cover our growing PGR membership, or members who are on leave, or unable to withdraw their labour for whatever reason. Our real membership number is much higher than this, at just under 2000. 2) Secondly, along with our sister campus unions UNISON and Unite, our bargaining group represents all staff, not just those who have union membership. Our action, which includes our regular negotiating meetings, alongside any industrial action, represents the interest of all staff. It is also important to note that any member of staff employed by this university can join the strike, and join UCU, even during our action.
Updated industrial action guidance, including ASOS
We have pushed a second update of our online industrial action guidance. This includes ASOS guidance, we will continue to update this as we receive questions from members.
Some General ASOS Tips
Even though we have members on a huge array of contracts, with very different job activities, we want to make ASOS as collective an activity as striking is. In terms of identifying what specific activities fall under ASOS, it is often the case that you are the best expert on your own contract, and we suggest you get together with your colleagues to talk through things so you are acting together. However, please do feel very encouraged to ask the branch for help (although we may not be able to reply straight away). The spirit of ASOS is to 1) not undermine strike action, 2) make visible how workloads are unsustainable, and that the university would ground to a halt if all staff worked only their allocated hours and followed their contracts.
ASOS doesn’t necessarily mean that all activities that we do fall by the wayside, it means questioning why you can’t fit that activity into your 35 hour week; it means asking your department why your contribution to EDI activities (or other voluntary labour) is taken for granted and not reflected in your workload allocation; it means letting colleagues know that you are overworked and that actually you’re not going to volunteer to take on that additional task; and it means challenging the workload creep of our jobs into weekend days.
ASOS and Saturday open days
On the specific topic of Saturday labour, we have received many questions from members on the topic of Saturday open days. To remind members, when Saturday open days were first introduced in 2017, they were initially presented as mandatory activities. In response to this, the joint staff trade unions engaged in a long negotiation process to ensure two things:
Staff participation in these weekend open days is voluntary, including for admissions tutors
Staff would receive adequate support and remuneration for taking on work on a day that is outside of their normal working week.
We wrote to you at the time making these positions clear. More directly, the Saturday open day policy acknowledges the extraordinary nature of Saturday work and the overtime provision for Grades 1-6. The revised guidance to managers document we negotiated in 2017 clearly states that staff will receive an “offer to work”, and expressly states that “under no circumstances should the threat of disciplinary action be used to secure attendance”.
If Saturday working is an explicit part of your employment contract with the University of Sheffield, which we know is the case for a very small number of members, then we are not asking you to break your contract, and you should attend days of work which you are scheduled for.
There are more details regarding Saturday open days in our ASOS guidance.
We are pleased to say that once again the branch will be paying for striking members to pick up a free hot drink and sandwich from John’s Van on strike days. Please do make use of this!
Our Office Has Moved!
It is important to remember that we have now vacated our office on Hounsfield Road, and are now operating from 3 Palmerston Road. It is from here that we will be distributing materials such as placards and leaflets on the mornings of the strike. The building unfortunately has no step free access, so please do get in touch if you have any accessibility requirements.
Hardship fund details
Details relating to hardship funds have now been announced and are detailed within our guidance. Members earning below £30k per annum are able to claim from the National Fighting Fund £75 per day following the second day of action, and members earning more than this are able to claim £50 per day. Those in precarious circumstances are encouraged to also use the local hardship fund which will match this amount.
This morning, we held our first joint-union organising committee with UNISON and Unite colleagues, this is an open committee and members can sign up to join this group here. We discussed the local UNISON branch’s reballot, which opens 30th November, and how SUCU members should encourage colleagues to vote (and to join UNISON if they’re not already a member of a union).
Thursday 24th November
AMRC Picket, outside Factory of the Future from 7.30am until 9am. If you know you are able to attend this picket, please get in touch with the branch committee as we will need to coordinate passing along picketing supplies ahead of this, given the early start!
Running Picket, from 9:30am
Teach-outs, 3 sessions run by PGR members from 1pm, Gallery Presentation Area within the SU building
Friday 25th November
Running Picket, from 9:30am
Teach-out: ‘The Marketisation of Higher Education’, 7pm, Coffee Revolution
Wednesday 30th November: Rally for Higher Education
~There will be no pickets on Wednesday 30th~
A number of Rallies for HE are taking place across the country. There will be rallies in Sheffield, London, Leeds, and Edinburgh, along with other places across the UK. The rally in London, in particular, will be outside of Woburn house, which is the location of both UCEA and UUK, and the location of pay negotiations on the 30th. Branch committee explored the possibility of sending a coach to the UCU London rally, but unfortunately due to the high cost and a low level of interest from members this was not possible.
Instead, alongside the Hallam and International College branches of UCU, we will be holding a giant rally at midday (details TBA very soon). Members of other branches of UCU who live in or near Sheffield have also expressed an interest in joining us. We are following the guidance of UCU HQ in not holding pickets on this day, and encouraging all members to sleep in and then make this a rally of huge proportions. We want to make our disputes visible across the entirety of the UK, and to in particular to the general public, and a very large public rally will support this aim.
Teach-out: ‘Museum, social justice and arts activism’, 6pm, Gallery Room 2
Call for skills!
As always, we are hugely grateful for the work our members put into the branch. We are pleased to say that since our call out for new caseworkers earlier this month, we have had nearly 10 members express an interest in doing casework for the branch!
Members often approach us offering up their skills, such as the fantastic video that was produced by a couple of members last December, and support in updating our sometimes neglected website. We welcome any support members think might be useful to us. We are in particular need at the moment of any members who may have an interest in offering experience in graphic design, and fundraising. If you think that might be you, please get in touch!
Motions passed at GM
At our General Meeting yesterday, our branch passed two motions brought by members. The first was in support of People & Planet Sheffield, and their Fossil Free Careers Campaign. The second expresses solidarity with student activists. The University appears to be pursuing disciplinary action against students who engage in political activism on campus. We view this as not only a disproportionate response, but are also aware of the clear ramifications of this draconian approach for students who show support and solidarity with striking UCU members, as well as the impact on their welfare. We are deeply concerned by the heavy handed approach being used by UoS to intimidate student activists, and will be raising this issue with university management.