June Branch News: Archaeology, Governance, Pay & Pensions and more!
In this month’s branch news: the future of Archaeology hangs in the balance as Senate debates the issue, the university's governance structures and processes come under increasing scrutiny, and we call members to an EGM on the national disputes.
Ways to get involved:
EGM Calling Notice: We are calling all members to attend an urgent EGM on Monday 28th June, 13.00-14.00, to discuss the union’s strategy for the national disputes over both USS and the Four Fights. The results from the recent Congress strongly commit the union to undertake sustained campaigns to defend our pensions, pay, and working conditions, and therefore the Higher Education Committee (HEC) will meet on July 2nd to discuss our strategy, including the timing of potential ballots, and the nature of potential industrial action. Since HEC needs to be guided by the membership, this EGM is your chance to engage in discussion about the national strategy which will feed directly into HEC’s decision-making. So please come along and have your say in how we take forward these incredibly important disputes. Use this form to register and the zoom link will be sent on the morning of the meeting.
Professional Services members meeting 28 June, 1:00-2:00, register here.
This month is UCU 'Love our ARPS' month, which focuses on signal boosting and developing campaigns on behalf of professional services members in UCU. Take a look at the work of the UK ARPS committee, and let us know if you want to get involved in our local work campaigning over PS pay and promotion equality! Also, if you have professional services colleagues who don’t think UCU is for them, please show them this lovely blog post, written by previous SUCU member Amy Ryall.
We are looking to expand our existing network of anti-cas departmental reps. If you are interested in getting involved or want to learn more, please get in touch with our new ant-cas officer Ben either by email, or through the linked Google Form.
Liverpool UCU started their marking boycott on Friday, 18 June, after three weeks of strike action against the unethical ‘rank and yank’ redundancy scheme being pursued by their university management. In response, Liverpool SMT have threatened 100% pay deductions. The branch is asking for messages of solidarity and donations to their fighting fund from UCU branches to help support members receiving their pay deductions as part of this fight.
Senate met on Wednesday 23 June to consider UEB's recommendation to close the Department of Archaeology. This happened in the context of troubling reports about how the review process was conducted, including ethically dubious research methods (and more here), concerning reports of senior management attitudes to our students and their capacity to learn, and potential misrepresentation of the goals of the review. Reports from Senate suggested that the department had a warm hearing and UEB’s decision and the process behind it were sharply questioned. Unfortunately the chair of Senate (who is also chair of UEB - no conflict there at all of course) denied a vote, and instead all Senators are being asked to individually provide feedback to advise Council. We remain concerned that the university has weakened governance structures and now has no effective academic oversight of what our senior managers are doing. Given the widespread concern locally, nationally and internationally, we remain hopeful that Council will intervene to reject UEB's recommendation. In the meantime, please continue supporting our colleagues in Archaeology and making your views known to Senators and Council members.
The Archaeology decision has also highlighted the overwhelming failures of process in how the university manages change. To give one example, Change Management Processes require HR to conduct post-restructure reviews to learn lessons from completed processes. We are not aware of these taking place over the last five years, despite many restructuring processes. With our colleagues in UNITE and Unison, we raised our concerns that the university is not following its own policies (or learning from completed processes) in a formal letter, here, which we have not had a reply to.
Flexible working and reasonable adjustments
As more staff begin to work on campus some days of the week (in addition to those who have already been working on campus over the past year), University management has announced an approach to flexible working over the coming months. We know that some members are already working on campus, and we are also aware that there have been a wide range of approaches to flexible working across work areas, some of which have raised concerns, and some of which have received support. Because of this variation, we are trying to take these concerns on a case-by-case basis.
Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have questions or concerns about the approach being taken in your work area, either individually or collectively. We are able to support individual members via casework, and can raise departmental issues via our negotiation structures, or schedule a health and safety inspection for your work area.
On the Health & Safety theme, we are always looking for members to be involved as health and safety reps. Health & Safety regulations give us the most legal protection of all the UK’s workplace legislation, and if this is an area which you would like to learn more about please get in touch. Training is available, as is support for requesting paid time off to engage in this.
The SUCU branch equality working group has also put together specific resources for staff with disabilities related to flexible working and reasonable adjustments. We’re linking to those here in a number of accessible formats. We hope these are helpful, and as always let us know if you have questions.
Last week, Sheffield UCU held its annual general meeting with over 100 members attending. We passed an important motion on solidarity with Palestine, and calling for the university to divest from companies who are complicit in the occupation. We also elected a new branch committee for 2021-22. There are still a couple of positions available on committee; if you are interested in joining, or aren’t sure but would like to learn more about what it involves, get in touch with us at email@example.com.
National UCU updates
The annual meeting of UCU Congress, which is the primary policy making body of the union, was held over the last weekend in May. SUCU sent a full set of delegates as well as members who are part of the National Executive Committee and the national UCU equalities groups.
You can see a full list of the motions that were passed here. Please do take a moment to look over the motions as passed. As a branch, our interventions were broadly supported, with a long delayed rule change proposal to provide national hustings events for UCU elections passed. The Higher Education Conference also discussed our ongoing disputes over pensions and pay and conditions. We’ll discuss the implications of this in our upcoming EGM, but please do take the time to look over the motions, which will guide the industrial strategy of the union over the coming year.
Block the Boat for Palestine! Lessons from Trade Union and Community Activists
The most recent Israeli attack on Gaza has been met by mass protests around the world. In port cities from the United States and Canada to Europe and South Africa, trade union and community activists have responded to the call for boycott, divestment and sanctions by setting up blockades to prevent the docking of ships from the Israeli Zim company and the loading of arms of Israel. These actions build on a series of protests in port cities in the early 2000's by trade union and community activists, including participation in the Ship to Gaza/ Freedom Flotilla effort in 2014. In this meeting, we will hear from trade union and community activists from the United States, Sweden and Italy who have played a central role in these and other solidarity actions for Palestine. The event will focus on the organising lessons learned with a discussion to follow.
Participants: Dr. Rafeef Ziadah (Panel chair), Lara Kiswani, Erik Helgeson, Jose Nivoi, Giacomo Marchetti, Zuhayr Mahomed
Next Thursday (1st July 10am-12pm) will see the launch of the manifesto for the first phase of the UCU’s 'PGRs as Staff campaign'. More details about the event, as well as a form to sign up, can be found here.
Spring branch news: Solidarity to members facing redundancies nationally and restructures locally
Ways to get involved this month:
May Professional Services member’s meeting - Thursday 20 May, 1-2pm This is our last meeting of the Spring term, and we will be discussing the University's 'flexible working' proposal, professional services pay and promotions, and other member issues. Come and bring a friend! Register using this form.
Our annual general meeting is coming up on Tues, 8 June from 1-2 pm. This meeting provides a chance to take stock of the year and discuss the large issues facing the branch now, and in the year ahead. You can find the agenda here, and can register to attend here. Also, as you will see from the agenda, we still have a couple of vacancies on committee. 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 -- the current members of committee are happy to answer any questions you may have!
Show support for branches across the sector facing redundancies by writing and signing letters, signal boosting local campaigns, and taking part in the UCU boycott of Leicester University. See below for more details.
Restructures and job security updates
Many thanks to those of you who attended the EGM on job security and workload issues on 5th May, where we heard updates on the current restructure programme and overwhelmingly passed a motion that mandates the branch to escalate our opposition to the attacks on job security, up to and including balloting on industrial action. You can view the text of the motion here. We have also sent the VC an open letter asking him to halt the Future of Languages initiative, signed by staff across all campus unions as well as non-members. If you were unable to sign the letter previously, but wish to add your name, you can still do so, using this form.
We are expecting to finally discuss the substance of the grievance that has been submitted by UNISON, Unite and SUCU over the proposed changes to the School of Languages and Cultures next week. Should the outcome of the grievance discussions be unsatisfactory, we will be in touch again with further updates and next steps.
We were incredibly frustrated to learn recently that yet another restructure has launched in one of the professional services departments of the University. We are currently representing staff in restructures across far too many of our work areas and faculties, and the University must slow down the pace of change. Staff are exhausted and demoralised, and the staffside trade unions cannot adequately resource our representation of staff. Under the terms of our agreement with the University, they are required to undertake meaningful consultation with us and at present this is near-impossible. Since March 2020 we have held and communicated the position that putting staff at risk of redundancy during a global pandemic amounts to a significant undermining of the University’s stated intention to support its staff.
The current round of restructures at Sheffield is not solely focused on Arts and Humanities but across the sector we are seeing concerted attacks on those programmes and research areas and we want to be clear to all colleagues, in FAH and elsewhere, that we will defend jobs and programmes across the entire University. We need your support to be able to do this. Please sign letters, come to branch meetings, and respond to any consultative communications you receive from us.
We continue to hear extensive feedback from departmental reps and members in meetings about serious stress and workload concerns, and we are in the initial stages of developing a health and safety oriented addition to our longstanding local campaign around workloads. We are working closely with colleagues in Health and Safety and HR on stress risk management and mental health but while those measures might improve things in some areas the root cause of workload and stress in HE remains consistent: under-resourcing and precarity.
We are pleased to report that UEB has very recently committed to implementing the principles of workload modelling and management for academic staff that were proposed by the Academic Workload Working Group, which was created in 2019 at the request of UCU (we are continuing to push for a comparable group to be formed to consider the workloads of Professional Services staff, and hope that UEB’s adoption of these principles may facilitate that). We are going to send out much more detailed communications on both these principles and tools for raising issues of workload related stress in your work areas very soon, but in the meantime, if you would like to become more actively involved with Sheffield UCU's workload campaign then please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pay and promotions campaign
We are working closely with UNISON and Unite on a campaign to improve pay for the lowest paid employees at the University, those on grades 1 - 6. We are also in the initial stages of pressing harder for clearer progression routes for PS staff at all grades. If you’d like to be involved in this work, please get in touch.
National UCU Updates
Solidarity with branches facing redundanices
You may be aware that Liverpool and Leicester are currently undertaking industrial action relating to job cuts and redundancy threats at their respective institutions, and Goldsmiths has recently concluded a long campaign. We send our solidarity to them and all the other branches currently facing attacks on jobs and programmes, and ask members to send messages and signal boost their campaigns in every way that you can. UCU has called on members to greylist the University of Leicester in response to these redundancies, and this branch passed a motion at our most recent EGM supporting this. You will have received an email earlier this week describing what this involves, but simply stated, a greylist involves not engaging with the University in any way. If you have any questions, please get in touch. As a branch, we call on everyone to stand beside our Leicester UCU colleagues and participate in this boycott of the University, until they cease these attacks on staff and academic freedom of speech.
USS - Five principles for a resolution of the dispute
While Universities UK have responded to the 2020 valuation by bringing back from the dead a variation of the ACAS proposal from 2018 which prompted cries of “no capitulation” from the membership, UCU have announced five principles for a resolution of the dispute that will guide the negotiations:
Progressive contribution structures to enable more low paid staff to join and stay in USS.
An end to the downward spiral of contribution increases and cuts to retirement income.
The fund weighted towards return-seeking, ethical investments.
Commitments from employers on covenant support, governance reform, and lobbying for regulatory change.
Exploration of conditional benefits on terms acceptable to UCU members.
Individual employers are currently being consulted on whether they back the UUK proposal, and the future of this industrial dispute - currently hanging in the balance - should become clearer when we find out whether they support another attempted attack on members’ benefits.
TUC Long Covid Survey
The TUC have launched an online survey for workers who are experiencing or have experienced Long Covid. They want to better understand your experiences at work and what additional workplace support you feel is needed.
Long Covid is an issue of concern for the union movement as ONS data has revealed that 1 in 5 people who’ve tested positively for Covid-19 have had symptoms that have lasted for 5 weeks or longer and that 1 in 10 have had symptoms for 12 weeks or longer. With over 4 million people having tested positive for Covid-19 those experiencing Long Covid could be as high at 800,000.
March branch news: 2021-22 HE pay claim, gender pay gap claim, and restructures
April Professional Services member’s meeting - Wednesday 23 April, 1-2pm (please note this is a change to the previously advertised time.) Our PS member meetings are getting bigger and bigger as time goes on, and are generating important local member-led campaigns around pay and progression for PS staff (see below for more details). Come, and bring a friend! Register using this form.
Please hold the date for our annual general meeting, Tues, June 1 from 1-2 pm. Also, 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. The current members of committee are happy to answer any questions you may have, and we are very keen to have more members be involved! There are 6 ordinary member positions on branch committee, which provide an excellent opportunity to learn more about the workings of UCU on a local and national level. You can find a complete list of branch committee positions here. If you do decide to run for a position on the branch committee, please submit this form by 4 May.
Local SUCU News
Restructures and job security updates
As we described in our email to you earlier this week, UEB is pushing ahead with an escalating programme of restructures across the university despite significant concerns raised by the staff who are directly affected, staff in related work areas, and the trade unions. We have called a meeting for all staff - union members and non-members - to discuss this on Thursday 1st April at 1pm. Restructures impact the entire university community, and we want to have a full discussion, with as many members as possible, about how to best stand with our fellow staff members who are ‘in scope’ for these restructures, and to communicate our concerns to the university. Over 350 people are signed up so far - please register here and come along so we can discuss and plan together.
In 2017, UCU and the other staff trade unions submitted a joint claim on the university’s gender pay gap. We called for an equal pay audit, joint analysis of the results and the development of an action plan to meaningfully tackle discrimination and inequality. In response to this claim, UEB agreed to form a Gender Pay Gap Working Group including trade union representation, and this group has spent four years analysing the gender pay gap and its complexities, and reporting to the University Executive Board and Council. Throughout this time, our UCU reps have continually argued that data gathering is insufficient, and the university must commit to concrete actions to address the gender pay gap, and as of December 2020, UEB has committed to eradicating the gender pay gap, and publishing interim progress markers towards that end goal towards which they can be held accountable. We will continue to push the university to reaffirm this commitment, to not delay in actions that can address this inequality, and to also take concrete actions to address the race and disability pay gaps that persist at the university.
To read more detail, please see this blog post which was published this week on the work to date of the Gender Pay Gap Working Group.
There is always scope for increasing our work on Equality-related issues and we have recently instituted a monthly catchup for all departmental or faculty based ED&I reps and others interested in advancing equality, diversity and inclusion. The aim of this group is to develop grassroots connections between ED&I reps and activists that the university’s hierarchical structures sometimes mitigate against. If you’d like to get involved, please email email@example.com or sign up at this Google form. The next meeting will be on Tuesday, 27th April at 2pm.
SUCU participated in the very good meeting Unite the Union has been organising on a Just Transition on 10th of March. Our branch is aiming to organise more joint meetings and training events to deepen our cross-union and student-staff work. The annual meeting of Green Reps is happening on 17th of March and we will report back after that, but in the meantime, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, to get more involved!
Academic Related, Professional Services update
We held our March monthly meeting on 9 March, which was as usual, well attended by staff. These meetings give PS staff a chance to discuss issues relating specifically to their work areas. All PS and Technical staff members are welcome and the next meeting is on 23 April - sign up below. In addition to the regular meeting, we also held an Action Group on the subject of pay and promotions on 23 March. At this meeting, we agreed some actions to take a campaign forward, including setting up a working group to collate information and plan a strategy to lobby the University to develop a more consistent approach to PS staff retention. If anyone would like to be part of this, or help to collate information from their work areas, all help would be gratefully received. Please email email@example.com
Covid and health and safety updates
Many thanks to the member in Law who brought to our attention a proposed change in legislation likely to come into force in May 2021, which would see workers as well as employees protected under s44 of the Employment Rights Act. You can see the draft legislation here and read the piece from an employment law blog that we were sent here. This is good news for precarious workers in all sectors. If you’d like a refresher on the difference between workers and employees, see the Acas site here.
National UCU updates
Last week UCU, along with the four other unions which make up the New Joint Negotiating Committee for HE Staff, published the 2021-22 pay claim, and today, the HE negotiators have their first meeting with UCEA to discuss our employers’ response. We strongly encourage members to read the pay claim and understand what the unions are asking for in terms of our pay and working conditions. The unions and UCEA are in agreement about the fact that our pay has declined in real terms to a significant degree over the last decade, and inequalities and workload concerns remain very pressing for all staff in HE. Despite this agreement, we do not see evidence that the employers are willing to take concrete actions to redress these issues.
The consultative ballot on the 2020-21 pay ‘offer’ (there was no offer) that was open earlier this year was decisively rejected by the membership - 86% of voters. As a result, UCU’s Higher Education Committee have sought feedback from branches at branch delegate meetings in February and more meetings are planned for later this month. We will be sending delegates and seeking further feedback from members on the next steps the unions should take on this, particularly in relation to the link between the current year’s pay claim and our outstanding dispute.
USS has recently released the results of the valuation conducted in March 2020, with projected increases in contribution costs that are unaffordable to both members and employers. They have also very recently rejected a formal request from UUK to revisit the valuation. Please see this blog from Leeds UCU on the state of affairs with USS, and this recent USS Briefs piece by Sam Marsh. We are waiting to see how UUK will respond to the rejection by the trustee of a review of the valuation, and should get some ideas of their thinking in papers for a consultation of employers we expect them to publish shortly.
The results of the NEC election results are in, and can be viewed here. Many thanks to all of you who voted. Locally, we continue to have representation on the NEC via Robyn Orfitelli - congratulations to her on her re-election and commiserations to Mark Pendleton for not being re-elected this time.
Annual Meeting of Casualised Members
The annual meeting of casualised staff took place Saturday, 13th March. Great to see about 60 committed union activists fighting for better conditions for us across the country. Ben Purvis and Steffan Blayney were our elected delegates. The motion to Defend the Four Fights that the anti-cas team (Steffan, Will, Elena) submitted was passed unanimously. It is incredibly important that everyone in the union understands that without any action on this, many of us will lose their jobs for the second time within the last twelve months. Other important motions that were passed addressed “Subject to Funding Contracts”, an issue that has been endemic at ScHARR especially, and a motion to ensure that Climate Action is indeed a progressive demand and not one used against casualised members. You can see all of the motions here. The five excellent workshops brought casualised members together to plan action on dangerous pressure to take on face-to-face work, get union recognition in outsourced and private education providers, and holiday pay for hourly paid staff. Elena and Alex Kirby-Reynolds (both also PandemicPGRs) facilitated a workshop on the “PGRs As Staff” campaign. This follows a motion submitted by PandemicPGRs last year that recognises the main job of PGRs - their original research - as labour and demands employment rights (wage, paid holiday, sick pay, union recognition etc), accordingly. The next step for this demand is to develop a manifesto outlining what wins in the short and medium term would look like. To get involved please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ARPS annual meeting
This took place on Thursday 18 March, attended by Jess Meacham (who chaired much of the meeting in her capacity as Vice Chair of the ARPS Committee), Eleanor Madley and Amy Ryall from the branch. The meeting opened with an address from UCU President Vicky Blake, herself a PS member at Leeds (when not seconded to UCU) which acknowledged the vital work that PS staff have been doing over the course of the last year, to keep Universities going. We then heard from colleagues from speakers across the country on the topic of ‘Finding the silver lining in the cloud’ which discussed responses to the pandemic and what we could take as positive from the last year. Speakers acknowledge some of the benefits of online communications and learning and the impact that could be seen on widening participation in higher education. They also cautioned against too much reliance on online ways of working and highlighted that the overall issues in HE, of workload, government attacks on the sector, student applications amongst others, were still very much in evidence. The formal business of meeting heard five motions, including our own motion Support for branches pursuing the model claim, for UCU to provide more central support for branches pursuing the model claim for improving pay and promotions prospects for Professional Service staff. There were also important motions on the safety of Library staff, and three from the ARPS committee on working from home, a new name for the ARPS committee and the resumption of the Love Our ARPS campaign. All of these motions were passed and will now go either to UCU Congress or to the Higher Education Committee. This part of the meeting also voted in the new ARPS committee which now includes Eleanor Madley and Amy Ryall from the branch. It ended with small group discussions about what UCU can do to support ARPS staff during the pandemic. Suggestions included work on questions to ask employers when they are thinking about return to campus and/or future remote working, to support staff trying to navigate how employers are dealing with this and more work on the recruitment of Professional Services staff.
February Branch News: Restructures, USS, and more
February has been a busy month. We have written to the University to express concern about the number of staff currently affected by what are euphemistically called ‘change processes’ - reviews, restructures, and risk of redundancy. We are currently supporting staff in teams and departments across the institution with our colleagues in Unison and Unite, and many of you will know people who are going through this and experiencing the associated stress and anxiety.
You may remember the last widespread set of restructures undertaken by the University Leadership in 2017-2018, impacting professional services members across the entire university. Along with the other staffside trade unions, we repeatedly expressed significant concerns about not only the scale of these restructures, but the lack of consultation, and the extensive damage that it did to the staff and work areas under scope, which persists to this day. We do not want to see a repeat of this process.
As we approach the anniversary of the first UK lockdown, we want to be very clear: the University’s decisions in responding to the crisis, including the current proposed change processes, have directly contributed to worsening the situation for all of us. From the cuts that were made last summer to colleagues on fixed term contracts or casual agreements, to the s188 consultation that threatened us all with ‘fire and rehire’ and now to a sweeping programme of job insecurity, the response from our senior managers has been to be to praise our exceptional efforts on the one hand and reward us via threats to job security on the other. We are doing everything we can to secure good outcomes for our members.
We will be holding a series of meetings over the coming weeks to discuss the current restructures, our best collective next steps, and how members across all work areas can help support those impacted by this process. Please keep an eye out for notices on them, and attend if you possibly can.
We are holding several other meetings this month. Save the dates!
Action Group on USS Wednesday 10th March 1-2 (Register to attend here)
Equalities meeting for any member interested in being involved in SUCU equalities work, 16 March 2:15pm (Register to attend here)
Action group on Professional Services Pay and Progression: The crisis of deskilling and downgrading
Tuesday 23rd March 1-2 (Register to attend here)
Health and Safety update
While we await further information on how the recent government ‘road map out of lockdown’ will be implemented in HE in general and Sheffield in particular, we have been consulted on updated risk assessments across our work areas. Our health and safety advice has not changed since our last update - If you are aware of any breach of risk assessments or non-compliance with Covid safety measures you should report these formally. You can report accidents, incidents, near-misses (a near-miss includes breaches of Covid measures like social distancing or mask wearing, except where people are exempt) and dangerous occurrences here. It’s important that these are reported promptly when they occur. You are also reminded of the procedures for removal from dangerous situations, and UCU’s updated suite of letters that members might like to adapt if your circumstances are such that face to face working puts you at risk. UCU have also just updated their Covid-19 guidance for academic related & PS staff.
With the other campus unions we carried out a health and safety inspection of Western Bank and the Information Commons in the last week of February, and will report our findings back to the University.
National UCU update
The consultative ballot on whether or not to accept UCEA’s offer of a real terms pay cut has now closed. Delegates from the branch attended a branch briefing session immediately after the EGM we held to discuss the offer on 12th February. Thank you to everyone who attended that meeting or sent in your thoughts by email - we heard a lot of feedback from you, ranging from considerable anger over the continued erosion of our pay and the refusal from UCEA to engage fully with the equalities-related elements of the pay claim to a general sense of exhaustion at the prospect of further industrial action in the immediate future. That feedback has been shared, and UCU’s Higher Education Committee will decide the next steps.
Interim online Congress was held over two days this month as well. Your branch delegates were Sam Marsh, Katy Fox-Hodess, Amy Ryall, Elena Simon and Jess Meacham, and we will try to write a full delegates’ report if time and workloads allow as soon as we can. In the meantime, you can view the motions that were carried (and a couple that fell) here. We’d like in particular to draw your attention to motions concerning how the union handles instances of sexual violence and supporting survivors, one of which came from Sheffield (motions 21 to 23) and late motion 2, which argues for new H&S related policy. There are lots of other good motions in there too so please do read them!
Elections to UCU’s National Executive Committee have closed and the results will be announced on Monday, 8 March- we hope that many of you were able to vote and we look forward to seeing the new NEC line up soon.
USS valuation announced
USS this week revealed what they see as the final contribution rates resulting from the 2020 valuation, and they are staggeringly high, with total contributions somewhere between 42% and 59% of salary. Early signs are that employers may be as unconvinced as many members are that this represents a realistic assessment of the situation, which could put USS under significant pressure to reassess. Come to our USS-themed Action Group on Wednesday 10 March, 1-2pm to hear the latest.
We held the monthly meeting for PS members in February and agreed delegates to the annual meeting and a motion that will support branches across the sector who represent PS staff to submit claims around pay and progression. If you’re interested in getting involved in this work, come along to an action group on 23th March to discuss it further!
The increasing use of fixed term contracts for Professional Services staff was raised during the February PS meeting. If any PS members are interested in getting involved in existing anti-casualisation work going on in the branch then please let us know.
SUCU Equalities work
Over the past year, SUCU has been working to expand our network of members involved in organising around equalities issues. For this year’s UCU annual week of action against workplace racism, our Sheffield UCU Anti-Racism working group wrote a series of blog posts on embedding anti-racist work in education, social movements, and unions, culminating in a Wall of Action. If you want to get involved in progressing SUCU’s anti-racist work, please get in touch with email@example.com!
The UCU Disabled Members Standing Committee has recently published an event accessibility checklist, with a specific focus on union events. SUCU is looking for members who want to be involved in developing proposals around accessibility in our work. If you’re interested in getting involved, please get in touch.
More broadly, if you want to get involved in Sheffield UCU equalities work of any (or all) types, there will be a general equalities meeting to discuss ongoing and new campaigns on 16 March, at 2:15pm.
January Branch News
In this month’s branch news: an update on the upcoming semester and workload adjustments under the current restrictions; health and safety; upcoming NEC elections; an important industrial action survey that we strongly encourage everyone to complete (those who have participated in the past and those who haven’t!); membership and organising; upcoming events.
Ways to get involved if you don’t have much time:
Come to the General Meeting on 2nd March - we’ll be sending a registration form round soon.
Email your departmental rep/contact ahead of the next reps’ meeting on 23rd February and let them know about any concerns you have
Read branch news! If you don’t have time to come to meetings, keeping up to date with what’s happening is the next best thing
We continue to meet with the University regularly to discuss the response to the current state of the pandemic. The messaging that has gone out from the University around adjustments to workload has been clear that individuals, teams and departments must seek to identify key priorities and recognise that some areas of activity might need to be paused or simply not happen. The feedback that we have received from members in meetings held since the New Year indicates that in some areas this has not been clarified locally, and we urge you all to raise any difficulties you might be having with your line managers in the first instance.
The ongoing restrictions, the partial closure of schools, and the ongoing, horrifying mortality rates of the pandemic continue to form a backdrop to an incredibly difficult academic year. We are intensely aware that many of our members are experiencing increased caring responsibilities, bereavements, the impacts of isolation, and ongoing workload difficulties as we get closer to semester two. Please continue to look after yourselves and each other as best you are able to in these circumstances.
We have been told that staff have been briefed about the likely continuance of remote learning for the majority of programmes for the foreseeable future and that staff are now clear on planning for the coming semester. This doesn’t seem to fit what we have heard from members. Please get in touch with us if you are being asked to plan for multiple modes of delivery up until Easter. Our position has been for some time that the University should announce remote learning for the majority of course at least up until the Easter vacation, and this has only been strengthened by the recent government announcement on schools. Do contact us with your views.
Health and safety update
The University is in the process of updating risk assessments to take into account the new situation with Covid. We are at present significantly concerned about the library sites that remain open and the staff who are working on site, in both library roles and in other areas. We are working closely with the other campus trade unions on this, as we have done since last March.
If you are aware of any breach of risk assessments or non-compliance with Covid safety measures you should report these formally. You can report accidents, incidents, near-misses (a near-miss includes breaches of Covid measures like social distancing or mask wearing, except where people are exempt) and dangerous occurrences here. It’s important that these are reported promptly when they occur. You are also reminded of the procedures for removal from dangerous situations, and UCU’s updated suite of letters that members might like to adapt if your circumstances are such that face to face working puts you at risk. UCU have also just updated their Covid-19 guidance for academic related & PS staff.
We have recently held our first meeting for all of the health and safety reps we have across the branch. We now have ten people who have completed initial training in health and safety, which is wonderful news, and as ever if any of you are interested in undertaking health and safety training or getting more involved in this work area we would love to hear from you.
National Executive Committee elections
The elections for UCU’s National Executive Committee opened on the 29th January. As ever, we strongly encourage all of you to cast a vote in these elections. The turnout for national elections is historically very low across union membership as a whole, and the NEC and its subcommittees have significant influence over the direction of the union.
We don’t have a SUCU Committee slate for this year’s election, in part due to the breadth and number of the candidates, and in part due to our own workload pressures. We would encourage you all to read the election statements carefully and vote accordingly.
Industrial action survey
You should have received an email from Jo Grady recently inviting you to complete a survey with your views and feedback on industrial action.
The survey asks members about their participation in previous industrial action, and what will increase participation in industrial action in the future. It covers options for action short of a strike (ASOS) as well as strike action, and it covers demands which the union can include in future negotiations with employers.
To win major UK-wide disputes we need as many members of staff in as many institutions as possible to participate in industrial action. That starts with listening carefully to what members have to say.
Membership/departmental reps update
We held a meeting with departmental reps and contacts in January and it was great to hear from and see so many of you there. We are still looking for departmental reps in some of the central professional services team and certain smaller academic work areas in Medicine, Dentistry and Health - if you are a UCU member in any of these areas and are aware you don’t have a departmental rep, do get in touch with membership officer Katy Fox-Hoddess on firstname.lastname@example.org
We held two action group meetings in January, on green issues and University governance and democracy. Many thanks to all of those who attended - we will be following up in writing with you all soon to progress this work.
The anti-casualisation campaign is going to be holding an open meeting for all members - causal or otherwise - to come and discuss our strategy for tackling the issues affecting casualised workers across the university. The meeting will be at 12-noon on 12/02/2021 and the link is here.
If you are on a precarious contract and would like to be more involved, please consider being a part of our casual rep network please email: email@example.com. Also, if you are interested in attending the excellent national Members on Casual Contracts meeting please see here for more information (and feel free to get in touch with at the above email address for more information).
Finally, we are aware that a number of Graduate Teaching Assistants who are currently abroad have been denied teaching contracts on the basis that they need to be in the UK to teach. We have followed this up with HR and this is false - you are allowed to teach remotely given it is online teaching. If you are being denied teaching on this basis, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sheffield-Nablus Twinning Initiative
Earlier this month, we held our first meeting of the Sheffield-Nablus trade union twinning initiative, co-hosted by Sheffield TUC. Along with colleagues from UCU at Sheffield Hallam, we are in the process of discussing with university trade union counterparts from An-Najah University in Nablus how best to take the twinning initiative forward. If you would like to get involved, please contact Katy Fox-Hodess: email@example.com.
TUC - is anyone interested in being a delegate to the Trades Council? Please let us know if so by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Professional Services Members’ Meeting, Thursday 11 February, 12-1
Departmental Reps and Contacts meeting Tuesday 23rd February 1.00 - 2.00pm (link in google calendars already)