Branch updates

News in brief from SUCU Committee.

A SUCU Win! A new Graduate Teaching Contract

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A SUCU Win! A new Graduate Teaching Contract (24th May 2024) We are thrilled to announce that SUCU and the University have agreed a new Graduate Teaching Contract.   The contract will replace the previous Sheffield Graduate Training Contract, and will apply to Graduate Teaching Assistants and Graduate Teaching Associates across the University. We believe the new contract will generate tangible improvements in the conditions of work of GTAs, provide more contract security, provide a framework for the correct allocation of all required duties and hours worked, and for GTAs to be better rewarded. The full new version of the contract is available to read here, and a comparison of the new contract with the old is available here.   Summary of changes
  • The new contract is a fixed-term, hourly-paid contract that lasts for the period of an academic year and includes a minimum of 20 hours of work.
    • The previous contract was an effective zero-hours contract.
  • GTAs will be provided with continuity of service, where they work consecutive contracts, allowing them to access employment rights linked to periods of continuous employment.
    • The previous contract did not provide continuity of service.
  • Departments must allocate work hours based on their departmental teaching workload allocation principles. Time will be allocated for teaching, preparation, meeting attendance, marking and assessment, and student support, including emails, training, and development.
    • The previous contract didn’t contain this detail, and there was a high degree of variation in which activities were paid between departments.
  • GTAs have access to 2 hours of paid induction, and up to 4 hours per academic year to complete paid training and development. 2 hours are available to prepare for and attend a Staff Review and Development Scheme (SRDS) meeting with the relevant line manager.
    • The previous contract did not stipulate that any training should be paid.
  • Graduate Teaching Assistants will continue to be paid at Grade 6.1, and Graduate Teaching Associates will continue to be paid at 7.3. For all GTAs who complete more than 150 hours of work in an academic year they will be eligible to receive an incremental pay increase the following year.
  • GTAs will have access to some aspects of The Deal and Recognition Awards.
  Implementation We have worked in close collaboration with HR to devise a plan for the implementation of the new contract. As part of this, we have had extensive input into detailed HR Guidance for Schools in recruiting, allocating work to, managing and supporting GTAs. This includes seeking more transparent recruitment processes, ensuring that work is allocated in a timely fashion, that clear line management channels exist to support GTA’s professional development, and that schools are provided with adequate support from HR to implement these commitments without major disruption to either academic or PS teams. It also stresses clarity regarding the grading differences between Graduate Teaching Assistant and Graduate Teaching Associate roles. Many discussions have been had with SUCU members and other colleagues who are involved in recruiting, coordinating and managing GTAs to inform this guidance. This guidance is still being finalised. This means that while most changes arising for GTAs from this new contract will be put into operation for the academic year 24/25, some aspects around workload allocation in line with School/Department planning rounds (which tend to take place in April and May), will not be fully implemented until next academic year. The University has agreed to undertake a joint review of the new contract’s implementation in Spring 2025.    Process The new contract has come about as the result of a lengthy local process of bargaining and campaigning. In May 2023, we formally submitted our Anti-Casualisation Claim to HR. This followed an agreement that the branch achieved to enter into negotiations here, as a result of the 2022 Marking and Assessment Boycott. The claim contains many demands relating to the use of casual work at the University of Sheffield. These demands were informed by a bargaining survey where members shared their experience, areas of concern and priorities for fighting casualisation. These experiences were pivotal to the development of the claim, which was workshopped and discussed with SUCU’s Anti-Casualisation Network over a  number of months.  The Network was also crucial to the Postcard Campaign that invited members across the University to express their support for the Claim. Negotiations began in Summer 2023, and we have met on average once every 4-6 weeks. We are grateful to the many members that have contributed to reaching this agreement. A huge thanks also for the tireless work of our negotiators, Remi Edwards, Alex Kirby-Reynolds, Maria Alexandrescu, and Robyn Orfitelli.   Next steps Currently we are in negotiations over the second part of the claim, and hope to soon agree a joint position on other work that PGRs typically perform at the University, particularly research assistance. The latter portions of the claim relate to the university’s use of fixed-term contracts, and we are currently deciding with HR and other campus unions how best to take this forward. Regarding the GTA contract, we will continue to work with HR to finalise the guidance for Schools/Departments, and will continue to engage with members when the contract comes into force in September to monitor its implementation and offer support to departments. If you’re a PGR or member of staff who works with PGRs and are interested in being involved in monitoring implementation in your own Department, please get in touch!

Local strike action 18-22 and 25-29 September 2023

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(14th Sep 2023) The email from the Director of HR to all staff (13th September) indicated that within our negotiation meeting we “were not able to reach an agreement”. We would like to clarify that our delegation approached the meeting with management openly and optimistically. Whilst the position from the branch is clear, we were willing to negotiate seriously to find an offer that the branch may deem sufficient to call off strike action during one of the busiest times of the year. Management offered nothing.

In previous sector wide disputes, management have held the public position that they do not wish to negotiate locally as it would not have the power to directly resolve the entire dispute. That is simply not true in this case. There is still time for management to engage and find a resolution that works for both parties. We have again today written to the VC to reiterate that. We understand that representatives of the Students’ Union have also met with management and asked them to engage with the branch to avoid the upcoming strike action and major disruption it will cause to students by returning MAB deductions.

Requesting the return of MAB deductions is not an unreasonable position, with the University of Sussex recently agreeing to return these in return for marking being completed by a reasonable date. Similar local agreements have been made at several other universities, including King's College London and LSE. Members might also remember the previous year’s MAB in which our own management agreed not to make deductions in response to marks being returned. We notified management on the 13th of July of our intention to escalate, giving them plenty of time to reconsider their position on deductions and avoid disruption.

In addition to writing to the VC and Director of Human Resources to ask them to return to negotiations, Members in the Faculty of Social Sciences have drafted an open letter which University of Sheffield staff and students can sign to show their support. We understand that this letter will be shared with management ahead of the upcoming action to ask them to please rethink their position.

Since management have the power to negotiate an end to this local dispute at any point, it is crucial that members show up in force next week. We note that deductions for August are not currently scheduled to be taken until this month's payroll is run, so there is still time for management to cancel these deductions. We also encourage members to keep an eye out for emails from us with any updates.

Industrial Action: 24th, 25th, and 30th November 2022

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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.

John’s Van 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.

A map:

Another map:

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.

Dispute Committee

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).

Strike timetable

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.

Branch News – Summer 2022

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Dear members, It’s time for a branch newsletter! We have had another relentless year, and our regular branch news has fallen by the wayside due to the need to prioritise more pressing communications. As the breathing space of the summer creates some brief respite before we launch into another balloting window, committee have taken some time to develop this proactive summary of various ongoing activities and issues of note.   Welcome to a New Branch Committee As of the 1st of August, we welcomed a new SUCU branch committee, and we thank our outgoing committee for their dedicated service to the branch.  Robyn Orfitelli has stepped into the role of President, having been elected and serving as interim President following the departure of Sarah Staniland to a civil service role in April. The vice presidential team of Sam Marsh, Traci Walker, and Ed Yates have been re-elected and will continue to offer their experience in routine (and not so routine) negotiations with management. Vicky Crewe has been elected to the role of Branch Secretary after previously serving as our Policy and Governance Officer, Ben Purvis has been elected as Communications Officer, and Joe Hill has become our Environmental Officer. We are pleased to have Pablo Stern returning as our Treasurer, Themesa Neckles as Equalities Officer, James Cranch as Membership Secretary, Matthew Malek as Pensions Officer, Tim Herrick as Personal Cases Secretary, and Mick Ashman & Jane Simm returning as Ordinary Committee Members. We welcome new Committee Members Eleanor Madley (Education Officer), David Hayes (Policy & Governance), James Bollington, Oli Johnson, and Naomi Hetherington. We are also very happy to have a dedicated anti-casualisation team this year headed up by Alex Kirby-Reynolds (PGR officer) who is joined by Nick Burke (Anti-casualisation Officer), Remi Edwards, and Maria Alexandrescu. We extend a huge thanks for the work of Mark Pendleton, Julian Gosliga, Lisa Stampnitzky, Andrea Genovese, and Bill Lee who are all stepping down from committee this year. We would also like to thank the departmental reps who are passing over batons this year.   Ways to Get Involved! Our branch is entirely dependent on the collective work of its membership. This includes the routine and less routine negotiations of our branch officers with management which over the past few years have delivered, amongst numerous other things, a professorial promotion appeals process, GTA contracts, topped up furlough pay during the pandemic, and stress risk assessments. The organisational and informational roles of our departmental reps and contacts are crucial to collectivising issues in individual workplaces, such as coordination for our local disputes involving Languages and Archaeology, pushing back against unreasonable workload demands, and bringing issues of health & safety to light. Finally the breadth of our casework carried out by our casework team (since July 2020, we've supported 178 colleagues), has helped members regrade their job roles, fight back against performance management policies, and combat workplace harassment. These activities are all undertaken by our members on a voluntary basis (though often union work can be recognised in workload allocation). As such there are always ways in which members old and new can get more involved in the branch!
  1. Come to meetings: We hold monthly routine General Meetings, which are often supplemented by Extraordinary General Meetings where a particular issue demands the attention of the branch as a collective. These are good points for sharing information, and all members are welcome to submit business for discussion ahead of meetings. We also hold regular monthly meetings for Professional Services members.
  2. Email us: Whilst our inbox is currently staffed by volunteers, and it may take a few days for a response, we welcome all enquiries big and small. Whether this is a request for casework, a query about university policy, or a question about how to get more involved, we are always happy to receive correspondence from members.
  3. Recruitment activities: If you are interested in recruitment activities, whether face-to-face, flyering, developing materials, or through other innovative approaches we’d love to hear from you! For those who may be apprehensive about this, we are able to offer recruitment training and support from more experienced members. 
  4. Join our anti-casualisation network: Launched in 2020, our nascent anti-casualisation network operates as an organising hub for casualised staff and PGR members. Get more involved by signing up.
  5. Become a caseworker: We are actively recruiting for new caseworkers who can support members with individual workplace issues. We have a number of experienced caseworkers who are happy to train up new caseworkers through shadowing and offering support, advice, & expertise. 
  6. Become a departmental rep or contact: A list of departmental reps and contacts is available on our website. The dissemination of information both to and from the committee is greatly aided by having reps in each department. If your department doesn’t have a rep, consider volunteering, and drop us an email. A number of departments have several reps who share the role and distribute responsibilities, so if you already have a departmental rep, consider contacting them to see if they would like support.
  7. Help out with our GTVO campaign: You can volunteer to send text messages to other UCU members to encourage them to vote, or help your departmental contact organise things within the department.
These are just some examples of how you can get more involved with the branch. As always, any enquiries should be directed to   Update on Working Groups As part of the agreement that Sheffield UCU members made with management to halt our marking and assessment boycott, management agreed to the formation of several time limited ‘task and finish’ groups.  Last week, members of the committee met with HR and agreed the terms of reference for two of these groups: professional services workload, and gender, race, and disability equality in academic promotions. In the coming weeks, these groups will begin their work, and we will report back to you regularly about their progress.  We have also met with management to discuss the professional services staff development programme, and we are pleased to report that an outcome of this discussion is an agreement to revisit and improve the policies that underpin the professional services promotions and regrading process.  For each of these three policy areas, particularly the professional services promotions and regradings group, we have had a terrific expression of interest from members for being involved in the development of the branch position, and in the negotiations themselves. If you have expressed interest in being involved in continuing work on professional services staff workload and promotions equalities, we will be in touch soon, and if you want to be involved but haven’t let us know yet, please do! We will continue to update you on the progress of the other aspects of the agreement, including the anti-casualisation claim, and the re-formation of the USS working group.    Anti-Casualisation News The local agreement obtained from the marking and assessment boycott committed to negotiations around casualisation, and in particular Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) conditions. Our anticas network has been working on a local claim for the past year, and the new team on committee will be spearheading this moving forward. Expect to hear much more shortly, as there will be several exciting events and developments coming up, including a bargaining survey for casualised members, an in person organising event in early September, and activities during PGR welcome week. You can sign up to keep up to date with our network’s organising activities using the following Google form.   #ucuRISING & Ballot News Our sister union UNISON, which represents many of our Professional Services colleagues, is currently balloting members on the paltry, way below inflation, pay offer made by UCEA, and colleagues in Unite are moving towards a ballot.  UCU members who have been paying attention to the recent flood of emails from National may have watched the recent campaign launch and should be aware that preparations are underway for a massive sector wide ballot on the Four Fights and USS disputes. This follows from votes taken at Sector Conference in June, and the input of members who were surveyed locally prior to this. The date that the ballot will be open has not yet been confirmed, though we expect the balloting window to open in early September and run for 7 weeks. This will be an aggregate ballot, meaning that the 50% turnout threshold is applied to the voting membership as a whole, rather than individual branches. This creates strength in unity, meaning that all branches across the sector will be able to participate should the threshold be met and a ‘yes’ vote be returned. As the ballot is conducted by post, it is vital that your details are up to date on the MyUCU portal. Our local campaign kicks off with next week’s All Staff Meeting taking place on Monday 15th August at 1pm. We are inspired by the energy of the national campaign which aims to reach all members, empowering branch activists, whilst endeavouring to listen to and bring along those who find the thought of further industrial action daunting.   Report on our Local Disputes It has been some time since we have reported on the status of our local dispute with the University relating to the planned closure of the Department of Archaeology, and the restructures of School of Languages and Cultures. Members within the impacted departments will no doubt be aware of ongoing developments, however for the benefit of the wider membership, our Senior Vice President, Sam Marsh, and outgoing committee member, Julian Gosliga, who both acted as negotiators for the local dispute, have prepared a report on the local disputes, which we recommend reading in full. As of May 2022, the mandate for local action has ended. Following negotiations, management have made assurances on job security. Within Archaeology, the majority of fixed-term contracts have been extended to September 2024, and the current proposals aim to move all staff to the departments of History and Biosciences. Within SLC, Phase 3 of the languages restructure has been scrapped, with assurances that there are no plans to reduce staff numbers within the ongoing Phase 2 changes. The University’s position shifted significantly after members showed their willingness to take action. While cast-iron assurances over compulsory redundancies have not been obtained, it is not immediately clear what further assurances could result from industrial action. It is thus the view of negotiators, Dispute Committee, and branch committee, that there is nothing to be gained from escalating the dispute at this stage, and the best approach is to stay vigilant for developments and react accordingly.    In Memoriam: Dr Tim Searle It is with sadness that we have learned of the passing of Dr Tim Searle who served on the Sheffield AUT Branch Committee (the predecessor of SUCU) in various roles, including as Branch President, before retiring from the committee in 2006. Tim had been an academic in the Department of Physics and Astronomy since the early 1970s, and had served on the University’s Council as an elected representative of the Senate from 2000 until his retirement from the University in 2008. Activists who were on the branch AUT committee remember Tim as a champion of EDI, carefully scrutinising policy documents and working tirelessly to defend members both through casework and collectively. Tim was Branch President during the 2004 marking and assessment boycott, which won a multi-year pay deal above inflation. We would like to offer our condolences to Tim's friends, family, and colleagues.    News from across the sector Queen Mary University continues to trash its reputation by ‘unlawfully’ withholding pay from staff involved in a marking and assessment boycott. The SUCU branch committee recently voted to donate £250 to the QM UCU hardship fund (the discretionary spending limit committee is able to approve without bringing to a general meeting). Members can donate to the hardship fund here. Unite members working for UCU are currently in dispute relating to their annual pay deal. Committee extends its full solidarity to these members, and support to fellow union members seeking inflation matched pay adjustments. We hope that the dispute can be swiftly resolved.  In more positive news, we extend our congratulations and solidarity to the UCU branches at Open University and Goldsmiths who have both recently seen important wins. The OU have, following extensive negotiations from the local UCU branch, agreed to roll out permanent contracts for 4800 associate lecturers. This huge win has slashed the number of UK teaching only staff on fixed-term contracts by a massive 15% over night! Goldsmiths meanwhile have finally come to the end of a long and bitter dispute relating to staffing cuts, with a commitment to no further redundancies.   TUC Rally: Saturday 20th August 11am Sheffield TUC are holding a rally and demonstration from 11am on Saturday 20th August outside Sheffield Station. The rally will be protesting inflation and pay cuts whilst profits soar, and will be standing in solidarity with striking workers from the RMT and CWU.   Upcoming meeting dates Whilst we anticipate a number of extraordinary meetings will be organised during the national #ucuRISING campaign, and the launch of the ballot window, we have begun to populate our calendar with our regular meeting dates.    Thank you! If you made it to the end of this email, we commend your resilience! Email is a key tool for us to communicate with members, and we try to ensure all our correspondence is informative and necessary. We are ramping up towards a critical campaign with the goal to deliver a sector-wide supermajority within our ballot, and send the strongest message possible to employers. If there is just one thing we ask of all members, it is to read (or at least skim!) our emails. An informed branch is a strong one, and together we can fight back against the hostile landscape created by our employers and leaders. Yours in solidarity, SUCU Committee

Donations to the fighting and hardship funds

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We want members to be financially supported so they are able to take part in industrial action without impediment, and a strong fighting fund is crucial to our action. This is especially important for casualised staff, though we encourage all members who need financial support to make use of the support that is available (full details can be found in our 2021/22 guidance document). Members are able to apply to the central UCU Fighting Fund as well as the SUCU Hardship Fund. The continued health of these funds throughout periods of industrial action are reliant on solidarity donations. If you are in a position where you are able to donate in order to support our more financially precarious members, we encourage and welcome any support.   To donate to the Sheffield UCU hardship fund, you can do so using these details: Account name: UCU Sheffield 70 Hardship Fund Sort code: 60-83-01 Account number: 20391171 Account Type: Business   Details on donating to the central UCU fighting fund can be found at this link.    We ask members who have a dispensation not to strike (due to e.g. long term illness or parental leave), or members with pre-booked annual leave to consider donating your earnings for strike days to either the central UCU or local hardship fund.