Branch updates

News in brief from SUCU Committee.

December branch news: Industrial action updates, working from home, and a much needed break is nigh

Published on

Dear members,

Happy Monday. This month’s branch news is fairly brief, but contains a number of important updates on our ongoing industrial action, the recent changes in DfE guidance on working from home, and a small bit of holiday cheer.

Industrial action updates

Our Industrial Action Guidance Document has now been updated to include information on:

    How to apply to the central UCU fighting fund and the local SUCU hardship fund.
    How supporters can donate to both of these funds. Particularly if you know any individuals or organisations outside of UKHE who might be willing to donate, please pass this information on to them!

At our branch meeting on the Friday of strike action, we discussed ways to keep our campaign visible, and make the action short of a strike that we are taking a collective, supportive action. One of the ideas that was raised was to hold regular, informal meet-ups for members of the branch to talk to each other about how ASOS is going, share problems, brainstorm solutions, and generally support each other. These “industrial action meet-ups” are separate from formal branch meetings, and won’t have any agenda. We are going to try to hold these meetings every couple of weeks, and have scheduled our first one for Thursday, 16 December at 11:30am. Given the new working from home guidance, this meeting will be entirely online. You can sign up to attend here.

One of our previous branch members who is now active in another branch has written a powerful reflection on our recent round of strike action, and a reminder of what we’re fighting for: an education sector that is once again transformative, instead of mired in metrics, competition, and destructively poor financial planning.

Working from home

In line with recently announced new policies regarding Covid-19, the DfE has published guidance for higher education institutions with recommendations for working from home. You may have seen the email from management late on Friday which stated that

“There are exceptions to this rule in place for universities to allow us to continue in person learning and teaching, other essential student focused activity, and research and innovation related activities. Therefore, in line with Department for Education guidance, we will continue to deliver teaching, student support and research activity on campus, including via the provision of library and study space.”

We want to continue to stress that staff and student health is of the highest priority, and that both groups have rights under Health and Safety law. If you feel that you are being asked to work on campus in a way that counteracts the DfE guidelines, or that places your health directly at risk, we encourage you to raise these concerns with your line manager. In particular, we know that ventilation continues to be an issue in campus workspaces. If you have reason to believe that the ventilation in your work or teaching space is placing you and/or your students at risk, please do remember the ‘Protocol for staff to remove themselves from a situation of serious and imminent danger’. As always, you can also contact us at for support.

Holiday Cheer

It is once again December, and that means it is time for our annual reminder of (in our humble opinion) the finest trade union parody song ever made, featuring a huge number of our members. Still relevant three years later! We will accept all nominations to the Top of the Pops competition with grace and humility.

Casualisation in the press

Published on

Get involved! Two quick items:
  • We have a branch General Meeting coming up on the 9th of November at 1pm, where we will discuss the results of the two UK wide ballots. We will be able to send a Branch Delegate from this meeting to report to the Higher Education Committee, and feed into the HEC's decision making meeting on the 12th. We won't yet have the results of our local ballot, but we can and will discuss its relationship to any UK action. Register here.
  • The UCU equalities standing committees are calling for members to self-nominate and join in this important work. UCU has member-led equalities committees for black members, women members, LGBT+ members, disabled members, and migrant members. They help create resources to support campaigning and casework, and help shape UCU's lobbying and policy about equalities issues. We can nominate up to one branch member for each equalities committee. We have received an expression of interest for the LGBT+ members committee, but we are looking for any members who want to get involved in any of these equalities strands. If you want to get involved, email us at before Monday, 8 November.
  • Casualisation in the press

    On Saturday, an article appeared in the Guardian called ‘My students never knew’: the lecturer who lived in a tent. This article details the reality of casualisation in HE, featuring stories of extreme precarity from several workers in higher education, including a UCU activist who had so little money she had to live in a tent while doing her PhD.

    Since UCU was created, we have consistently worked to raise awareness about precarity in higher education and campaign to reduce it. The most recent UCU report on casualisation reveals that 68% of research-only academics are on fixed term contracts, as are 44% of teaching-only staff. These are just examples of how casualisation impacts two specific job types; many professional services staff members and grad student workers in HE are hourly paid, and some don't even have contracts.

    When contacted for comment, our employers' representative body, the University and Colleges Employers' Association (UCEA), had the opportunity to express some level of compassion for the horrific personal circumstances detailed in the article, or at least provide an acknowledgement that this was an issue facing higher education that needed to be dealt with. Instead, the chief executive of UCEA, Raj Jethwa, dismissively downplayed the amount of casualisation in this sector, stating that “the vast majority of teaching is delivered by staff with open-ended contracts”. This statement is misleading, at best, and made in the context of the above figures, which UCU (and the other HE trade unions) continue to supply UCEA with in our annual bargaining claims, represents a fundamental disregard for the staff of this sector. This is why casualisation is part of our Four Fights ballot: HE employers will not acknowledge that there is a problem, let alone reduce their reliance on casualised labour, unless there are enforceable, sector wide standards that force them towards secure working.

    Mr Jethwa also chose this moment to attack UCU by making the inaccurate claim that we have “repeatedly reject[ed] opportunities to work with employers in this important area.” Every year the joint HE trade unions ask employers to work with us to identify sector-wide baseline standards on precarity, and UCEA responds by saying we could consider developing a working group to 'identify the issues' and 'make recommendations of best practice' which individuals employers can choose to follow - or not. This sector is beyond the need to identify issues in relation to precarity. The issue is that employers are increasingly choosing not to provide staff with secure contracts. You can read a response to the article, by UCU President Vicky Blake and our Communications Officer Robyn Orfitelli, in Guardian letters, here.

    This sector needs negotiated baseline standards for job security that apply to all HE institutions. When employers are willing to work with UCU on developing those, we will join them in doing so. They have not yet been willing. This is why your vote in our Four Fights ballot is so important: we need to stand up for all of our members, and make this a more secure sector.

    If you haven't voted yet, Tuesday, 2 November is the last safe day to post your ballots for Four Fights and USS! Don't lose your chance to vote: find a post box in the morning!

    Vote today, don’t delay! Why we are balloting to save our pensions

    Published on

    Dear members,

    Our two UK ballots over pensions, pay, and fair working conditions will close next week. You need to send your ballot papers back by Tuesday, 2 November at the latest to ensure they count. Don’t delay: send your ballot papers back today, and let us know!

    Important, the deadline to request new ballot papers is 5pm TODAY! If you haven’t had yours, 1. check your preferred address on My UCU, then 2. request a replacement ballot here. Don’t lose your chance to vote!

    Why are we balloting over USS?

    USS is continuing its longstanding mission to kill off our pensions through unsound valuations and 'reckless prudence'. We have been here before. Every three years (or sometimes more frequently), USS completes a valuation that seems hard-wired to produce a deficit. And our employers use each valuation as an excuse to scale our pensions back further. The graphic below, which shows the real terms asset growth of USS vs their own, increasingly prudent forecasts, makes it clear that the USS valuations have no grounding in reality; they serve only to strip us of our hard-earned pensions. After over a decade of this 'death by a thousand cuts' approach, we are now paying ~50% more for pensions worth significantly less, with more cuts coming every three years. This has to stop. UCU demands that our employers revoke their planned cuts and insist on replacing the 2020 valuation, which cynically exploits the pandemic as a rationale to take our pension benefits away, with an updated, evidence-based 2021 calculation.

    How much money does USS want to take from you?

    If you haven’t had the opportunity yet, we suggest you use UCU’s USS modeller, which tells you how much you stand to lose if the proposals from our employers are forced onto us.

    As an illustration (conducted with thanks by one of our members), a Grade 8 lecturer who retires at age 67 and lives until age 85 stands to potentially lose approximately £175,000 of gross income from the DB (guaranteed) part of their pension over the course of their retirement. This income loss is equivalent to the same member going on strike and receiving strike pay deductions for 6 years and 2 months!

    Adding in an expected (but far from guaranteed!) approximately £120,000 from the defined contribution benefits that would replace them, they would still stand to lose over £55,000 over their retirement, equivalent to just under 2 years of going on strike!

    Check the impacts on you using the calculator from UCU.

    None of us want to lose money through strike deductions. But we simply cannot afford not to (and on strike we are supported by the UCU fighting fund). Please vote YES to action short of a strike and strike action.

    Sheffield UCU committee

    Autumn Branch News: Welcome to a new year

    Published on

    A new academic year is upon us, and to say that there is a lot going on is an understatement. Over the next week, we will be sending you updates on local health and safety policy and the central negotiations we are doing, as well as our ongoing dispute. In this branch news, however, we wanted to take this chance, with the fresh start that new years offer, to step back, and write to all of you with an introduction to what UCU (and unions more generally) do, and how you can get involved.

    Transparent information flow and consultation

    One of our most important goals as a branch committee is to make sure that information is being shared transparently and regularly. We want every member to know what the branch is doing, and for members to have chances to collectively decide what we do. As a group of members with strong opinions, we know we won’t always agree on everything, but we are committed to having the conversation – with its agreements and its disagreements – openly, transparently, and democratically, and to developing plans that reflect a majority position, and we think that this is a fundamental part of what makes Sheffield UCU strong.

    We try to email you regularly, and encourage you to email us at Perhaps even more importantly though, we try to meet as a full branch or as individual workplaces as often as possible, so that we can consistently talk as a group about any issues that are facing us, and work together to figure out how to address them. Our next branch general meeting is coming up on Thursday, the 14th of October, from 1-2pm. We will have a guest speaker from the University of Liverpool to talk about their immensely successful local action to resist compulsory redundancies, and we will be talking about our own ongoing disputes. You can see the agenda here, and register for the GM here. A Zoom link for the meeting will be sent out the morning of (And that will happen this time! Apologies for our mistake of a few weeks ago. After a year of so many meetings online, we suppose it was inevitable that we would forget once, and assume a link would be magically available).

    We also try to facilitate members talking and planning in smaller groups, and we have a network of department representatives across this university. These union reps hold meetings in local work areas, and are an integral part of helping to share information with members, and to share your needs and concerns with those of us who collectively bargain with university management. If you are interested in getting involved as a branch rep, either in partnership with an existing rep in your work area, or because your work area doesn’t have a rep yet, please get in touch and we are happy to answer questions about what it involves. We are especially looking to increase our reps network for professional services staff who are working in faculty offices or in academic departments.

    Networks of support and solidarity

    In addition to our departmental reps network, over the past 3 years we have worked to establish other networks of members, in similar roles or contract types, to facilitate support, solidarity, and to steer and develop local campaigning. We have an active professional services staff network for all of our PS members, which meets once a month. We also have an anti-casualisation network for staff on casualised contracts which meets semi-regularly. If you want to be part of either of these member networks, or to suggest a new one (be forewarned of the blessing/curse of the volunteer: We may ask for some help in organising it!) please get in touch with us at any point.

    Individual and collective casework

    Casework is one of the areas that unions are best known for. Essentially, casework is the process by which we help you find a way to resolve an issue that you are facing in the workplace.

    At this branch, our caseworkers provide support for members in three primary ways. We regularly hold casework surgeries where you can attend 30 minute appointments. For many types of issues members face, these short appointments provide you the chance to speak to caseworkers, who can offer advice and support in an effort to resolve your issue locally and informally. In other cases though, a surgery appointment may make it clear that you need more significant support (or you may know this in advance), and a caseworker can be assigned to you. Lastly, it may become clear that an issue facing one member is in fact a collective issue, facing an entire work area, or members on a particular contract type. In these cases, branch negotiators and caseworkers may also pursue a collective campaign or policy change based on the wider issues being faced by our membership.

    Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have seen an increase in both the number of collective issues, and individual issues, that our members are facing. We are looking for volunteers who might be willing to get involved in casework. Being a caseworker doesn’t mean you have to instantly know all university policy – this branch, and UCU more centrally, provides training, mentoring, and support for new caseworkers. All you need is a willingness to learn, to represent members, and skills in communicating and listening. Being a caseworker also doesn’t mean taking on an enormous number of cases. With enough caseworkers to take on an average of one case per semester, we can spread our workload, as well as increasing the number of members who are actively informed about university policy and able to advocate for yourselves and for others on both a formal and informal basis.

    Collective bargaining, Health and Safety, and Equalities

    Our branch committee fields a team of negotiators who meet regularly with members of university management, along with representatives from the other campus trade unions: Unite, UNISON, and GMB. In addition to our regular joint trade union negotiations, policy specific negotiation meetings, health and safety meetings, and employment security group meetings (ESG is where we find out about upcoming restructures and potential redundancies, among other things), and dispute related negotiations, we also take part in specific working groups, such as the gender pay gap working group, the academic workload working group, and others. Since the pandemic began, we have also met with representatives of university management regularly to collectively bargain over the university’s planned policies around Covid-19, which led to University of Sheffield employees receiving a top-up to 100% pay if they were on furlough last year.

    We welcome member involvement in building our local campaigns, and we have specifically involved members in our equalities work, including successful campaigns for increased support for migrant staff, and for an action plan to address the gender pay gap. We are part of a joint equalities working group with members from the other trade unions, and any members who want to get involved can do so by contacting us.

    Via branch news, interim emails, our branch meetings, our twitter account, and our reps network we try to keep members up to date on what is happening in negotiations, and to make you aware of what policies we have negotiated, where we see issues with university policies, and most importantly, what your rights are as a member of this university.

    Disputes and industrial action

    As a union, our first resort is to pursue change via negotiations, bargaining, and campaigning. However, negotiations can break down, and at this point, members face the decision of whether or not we should escalate to a dispute.

    In relation to both our pension benefits, and to our pay and working conditions, negotiations at a UK-wide level have broken down. Indeed, in recent years, we have seen a trend of our UK level employer representatives pursuing extreme changes without being willing to negotiate.

    As a result of this complete breakdown in negotiations, UCU is currently preparing to ballot HE members across the UK for industrial action over our pension benefits, and over our pay and working conditions, called the ‘four fights’.

    Locally, Sheffield UCU is also preparing to ballot, in relation to the university’s decisions to close the Department of Archaeology, and the sweeping and destructive restructuring of our language provision, which is already impacting the School of Languages and Cultures and Modern Languages Teaching Centre, and is planned to impact the School of East Asian Studies, as well as all professional services staff in these departments, and indirectly, every department which shares a dual or single honours degree with these departments. We have given University management until noon today to respond to our branch’s demand for an assurance of no compulsory redundancies, and if we do not receive this assurance, we will ballot for industrial action during a similar time frame to the UK wide HE ballots.

    We will be sending you much more information about the UK and local disputes in the coming weeks, and in particular, we have been posting a series of in depth posts related to the Local Dispute on our blog. Soon, we will also be writing to all members of staff at the university to inform you of an all staff briefing for midday on the 19th of October, so we ask you to save the date in your diaries.

    Lastly, please update your contact information at My UCU today, making sure your address is correct, and that you have a phone number listed. Being able to contact you during a ballot is crucial for making sure we pass the 50% threshold.


    As a union, we stand in solidarity with other branches of UCU, and other unions which are in dispute. Over the last 6 months, we have asked members to support action at UCU branches across both the HE and FE sectors, including an international boycott the Universities of Leicester and Liverpool over cuts to jobs, the improper use of research metrics, targeting of critical areas of scholarship and victimisation of trade union representatives and members. The news out of Liverpool is a significant success, with a hard fought campaign seeing 47 proposed compulsory redundancies reduced to zero. Huge congratulations to the branch at Liverpool UCU.

    The story at Leicester is a bit more mixed - a strong campaign in defence of jobs also led to the total numbers of redundancies being reduced, but several long standing members of staff (including UCU members and officers) were still forcibly made redundant, and management there is now moving on to a second phase of proposed cuts. We expect Leicester management to find themselves in employment tribunals shortly, and in the meantime encourage all members to continue to uphold the international boycott of Leicester and send whatever support you can to the branch there.

    Across tertiary education, UCU branches are preparing for disputes to take a stand against mis-management and attacks on terms and conditions. This week, UCU members at the Royal College of Arts have been on strike against unsafe workloads and exploitative, precarious contracts, and UCU members at Goldsmiths University of London are preparing to ballot against a set of destructive planned redundancies of staff in English, History, and Professional Services, after a hugely strong turnout on their consultative ballot.

    Locally, the cleaning staff in Sheffield University Unite have submitted a claim to University management demanding a guarantee of hourly pay of at least £10, and Real Living Wage accreditation moving forward, so that this University never falls behind, especially in years of extremely high inflation, like this one. All of the joint Sheffield University trade unions have recently taken part in initial discussions with representatives from human resources over this claim, and we stand 100% with Unite. This University has a responsibility to its staff to pay a Real Living Wage, and anything less is not acceptable. Beyond this, we’d also like to point out that we are incredibly disappointed that Unite has even had to make this claim, and that the University has not committed to be a Real Living Wage employer on their own initiative, prior to now. Our cleaners were fundamental front line workers keeping us safe over the last 18 months, and on their current salary, it would take them 34 years to earn what our VC earns in one year. This is not a fair remuneration scheme.

    As this campaign progresses, we will keep you updated, but in the meantime, please continue to sign the Unite pledge of support for the campaign, and continue to publicly support it wherever you can.

    How to get involved

    As members, it is a fundamental right that we are all entitled to time to engage in trade union activities, and the power that we have as a union to effect positive change comes from our involvement. For example, if the nearly 2000 members of this branch each dedicated 15 minute per week to UCU, this adds up to 500 hours per week of us collectively contributing to and supporting our union.

    We know how busy everyone is, and that the time we have changes from week to week, and month to month. But our workplace, and our union, benefits from all of us being involved, even if it’s just a small amount of time to read an email like this one. We have put together 2 lists of ways that you can be involved with UCU depending on how much time you have in a given week: 15 minutes, or an hour. These are formatted so you can hang them up in your office, as a reminder of how little things can add up!

    Download here: poster-15min poster-1hour

    June Branch News: Archaeology, Governance, Pay & Pensions and more!

    Published on

    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.

    Local News


    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.

    Reasonable adjustments general guidelines: accessible versions for members with visual impairment and dyslexia.

    Flexible working and reasonable adjustments guidelines: accessible versions for members with visual impairment and dyslexia.

    Sheffield UCU Annual General Meeting

    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

    National UCU updates

    Congress 2021

    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.

    Other Events

    Block the Boat for Palestine! Lessons from Trade Union and Community Activists

    Wednesday 30 June, 6:00 pm, Zoom link

    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

    FB page:

    PGRs as Staff Campaign

    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.