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)
December Branch News
As we’re now at the end of what has been one of the most challenging semesters on record, we want to thank all of you for your input over the last few months. This has been an incredibly busy period for the branch, and the fact that so many of us continue to turn out to regular meetings, emergency and extraordinary meetings, and campaigning events and action groups is testament to the commitment and energy of the branch membership. Thank you.
Below is a brief round up of news from the last month and looking ahead to the New Year. We don’t anticipate that things will become much easier as we head into semester two.
At the General Meeting on 24th November we gave an update on the current stage of the grievance that we launched with Unite and GMB over our ongoing health and safety concerns. Since the grievance was submitted, in mid-October, the picture has substantially changed and we are hoping that we can work towards a joint statement with the University that will bring an end to the process.
We have been pleased with the University’s response to some items in the grievance, including the end of face to face teaching in line with government guidelines in early December, our health and safety reps being given access to a directory of all risk assessments across the institution, and a commitment to joint working on plans for semester two.
All of the recognised trade unions have been asked for input into the planning for the spring semester, and we are interested to hear your thoughts. Please get in touch if you have them, and come along to the General Meeting in January (save the date reminders are at the bottom of this email).
We also met the Vice Chancellor recently and raised our concerns with him directly for the first time since the meeting where we were notified of the launch of the s188 consultation in the summer. The Vice Chancellor expressed his view that the consultation was necessary. We disagree, and encourage as many of you as possible to share your views on this and any other matters to the VC.
As ever we encourage all members with health and safety concerns to contact us on email@example.com and any member who would like to negotiate around face to face working of any kind to make use of the template letters produced by UCU, available here.
Health and safety update
More broadly on health and safety, we have discussed the testing programme in some detail with the University. It’s been an enormous logistical undertaking for those institutions participating and the outcomes of both the Winter Covid Plan and Christmas-specific easing of restrictions remain to be seen.
We encourage members to familiarise themselves with information available in the public domain about the testing programme using lateral flow tests, much of which is summarised in the briefing note here.
We continue to raise staff stress and wellbeing (including but not limited to workload) as an urgent concern and encourage those of you who are finding workloads are significantly unmanageable to work with your line manager/Head of Department and other colleagues to ensure that concerns are heard at all levels of the University.
National UCU update
You may remember that an interim online Congress was due to be held in mid-October and was postponed due to technical difficulties. The Higher Education Conference that forms part of this meeting has been rescheduled to 15th December. You can view the motions that were voted on and the results here and we will update and discuss further in January.
There will shortly be elections for UCU’s National Executive Committee. As ever, we strongly encourage members to vote in these elections since the NEC plays a very important role in determining UCU’s actions and strategies. There are a large number of candidates standing this year which is a very positive sign for lay member involvement in UCU’s democratic structures.
You will have seen in updates from UCU HQ that there are now multiple branches across the sector balloting for industrial action over current conditions or otherwise in dispute. Please offer your support as you can.
The programme of events that we put on for Disability History Month were very well-supported, many thanks to those who attended. You might also like to view our new leaflet on reasonable adjustments and rights for disabled staff at work.
You may have seen recently that the University has launched a listening exercise on issues of exclusion and inclusion. This consultation, headed up by the Chaplaincy, has been developed as a first step towards improving University policies dealing with antisemitism and all forms of racism. Reps from the branch committee have been involved in discussions around formulating this exercise and we encourage all of you to take part in the initial survey. . There’s more information including contact details for the project leads here. The branch committee views the listening exercise as a productive means of addressing issues of exclusion at the university, and made clear its view that the University should not bypass proper consultation and rush into an implementation of the problematic IHRA definition of antisemitism which both this branch and UCU nationally have rejected insofar as it conflates the very real problem of antisemitism with legitimate criticism of Israel.
We were deeply frustrated to learn this week that Council did agree to adopt the IHRA definition.
We are also aware that there is work ongoing on experiences of parental leave at the University with a view to reviewing and improving existing provision and support, and we encourage all members who this affects to complete the survey here.
We continue to build our network of anti-casualisation representatives in departments. We are planning a series of training sessions in the new year. If you’re interested in getting involved please get in touch with Steffan Blayney: firstname.lastname@example.org
In September UCU’s special sector conference passed a motion to acknowledge PGR original research as labour and to campaign for the recognition of PGRs as members of staff in order to combat casualisation from the bottom up. A first campaign-launch discussion took place in November. We will continue the discussions locally and UK-wide.If you want to get involved, please get in touch with Elena Simon: email@example.com
Finally we want to express our severe reservations against the UKRI decision to ignore its own research on the effect of the pandemic on PGR colleagues and to not provide extensions for PGRs finishing after 30 March 2021. Please support PGR colleagues in their struggle for crisis mitigation such as funded extensions for all, hardship funds, and fee waivers for self-funded PGRs by raising these issues in your department and faculty and making PGR colleagues aware of campaigns around the issue.
We’re really pleased that branch membership is looking very healthy at more than 2000 members. We are also very glad that our coverage of departmental reps and contacts is now approaching nearly all of our academic departments. If you work in a central professional services team that doesn’t have a UCU rep and you’re interested in hearing more or becoming a rep, please contact us. There are also some academic departments, particularly in MDH, who don’t yet have a rep. The time commitment is low (1 - 2 hours per month) but these roles are crucial to the functioning of the branch. We’re here to support you and there’s no need for prior knowledge or experience, just a commitment to building the union within your department or work area.
If you’re interested in learning more, please contact Membership Officer Katy Fox-Hodess on firstname.lastname@example.org
Please hold these dates for upcoming meetings in the New Year, when registration links will be sent out
Departmental reps and contacts meeting Thursday 14th January 1.00 - 2.00pm
General Meeting Thursday 21st January 1.00 - 2.00pm
Nablus twinning initiative meeting Tuesday 12th January 7pm
SUCU Climate Emergency Action Group, in cooperation with SustCom, Tues 12 January, 1-2pm, join here ; join googlegroup here
As we move ever closer to the end of semester, we’ll be looking forward to taking some well earned time off and treating ourselves, whatever the festive period may look like. Please make sure you take the Christmas closure period to switch off from work and relax. Remember too a motion we passed about making sure we remember to take all our annual leave, so if the conditions are right to extend the Christmas break, do so.
As we take the time to step back, it is important to remind ourselves of how much we have achieved collectively in spite of what this year has thrown at us. We went from sustained strike action to global crisis. We have all gone above and beyond to adapt and change in the face of the pandemic. Not only have we all shown immense resilience, strength and solidarity but we’ve also won significant concessions from University management. Some of the highlights include the agreed “do what you can” working over lockdown in early spring, the withdrawal of the ‘fire and rehire’ consultation under s188, 100% pay for staff on furlough, and the extension of a good proportion of fixed-term contracts that were due to end earlier this year. As ever, there remains much to do.
We’ll be back in the New Year and look forward to discussing our next steps as a branch collectively, including ensuring that the ‘new normal’ doesn’t mean any erosion of our rights at work.
Since the beginning of the semester we have had one of the busiest periods in the branch’s history. In early September we sent a detailed email to members with an update on health and safety, and launched a survey to hear your views. We have held a series of meetings throughout the semester to discuss issues raised by members around the current approach to learning and teaching.
We wrote to University management just prior to the start of the semester outlining five principles that we considered essential for a safe return to teaching on campus. In early October we held an EGM to discuss the branch response to the start of the semester, and at that meeting determined that we would submit a collective grievance along with other campus unions over what remain significant concerns over health and safety on campus. On 10th October that grievance was formally submitted (you can view the text here). The half-term holiday has delayed the process somewhat, but we meet representatives from University management again on Thursday 5th November to seek to resolve the grievance.
On 15th October at our General Meeting, we updated members on the progress of the grievance and presented a motion of no confidence in UEB, which passed overwhelmingly. Turnout at the meeting was higher than we have seen in some years, with more than 300 of you present to hear the discussion. Following the branch vote of no confidence, and requests from numerous members who were unable to attend the meeting, we have made an open letter version of the statement available for any member of the university community who wishes to sign it. Please note that you need to be signed in to your Sheffield address in order to sign. You can find a link to further contextual information here.
We were disappointed to learn on 4th November that there is no intention on the part of University management to alter our provision further. At our next branch meeting we will report back on the progress of the grievance and discuss and determine our next steps.
We want to ensure that all members are aware that we continue to meet the University every week to discuss ongoing issues thrown up both by the Covid situation generally and in terms of health and safety in particular. If you have concerns or questions that have not been covered in our meetings or discussions recently, please get in touch.
National UCU news
At the end of September a Higher Education Sector Conference was held. You can view the motions that were passed at that meeting here.
UCU was due to hold an interim online Congress at the end October. Unfortunately due to technical challenges the event had to be postponed. We will update the branch as soon as we can on arrangements for the rescheduled event.
We finally have the outcome of the new valuation methodology employed by USS, and the results are obscene. In what appears to be an attempt to blackmail employers into allowing the scheme significant influence over institutions’ financial decision-making, USS are threatening total contributions of 68% (compared to just 26% in 2017)! USS claim that they’ve followed the JEP recommendations, but by coupling the JEP-proposed dual-discount rate with a rebadged Test 1 (now referred to as ‘Metric A’) they have engineered massive deficits and sent costs spiralling. It goes without saying that this cannot stand. Our scheme has been hijacked, and all efforts now must be put into getting it back.
Mercifully, University of Birmingham VC David Eastwood stepped down as chair of the scheme last month (shortly after finalising the valuation) and has been replaced by incoming independent director Kate Barker. With two new additions to the board from UCU (Andrew Brown and Helen Shay) and one from UUK (Paul Curran), there is potential for a culture change within USS, though its hugely divisive CEO Bill Galvin remains. Meanwhile, please don’t forget about Jane Hutton - fired from the board last year, and in the process of taking USS to court for unfair dismissal. We hope that justice prevails and anybody responsible for wrong-doing is properly held to account.
We have had a number of productive negotiation meetings with HR on casualisation.
We have made progress on eliminating term time only teaching contracts with a paper based on our proposed changes being submitted to UEB. As a result of successful meetings with management, we are working on establishing a university wide best practice guide for employing GTAs. HR has also agreed with us on the principle that all members of staff need to be included in all staff communications. We are currently working on establishing a set of guiding principles for employing Associate Tutors, Contracted Teaching Assistants and University Teachers including contract length and adequate research time. If you’d like to share your thoughts on this, please email email@example.com
A meeting of fixed-term contract research staff took place in early September, and an open and informal mailing list was set up to discuss issues specifically related to casualised researchers. You can sign up here if you want to be added to the list. One particular concern, is people on fixed term contracts with more than four years of service not being moved onto open ended contracts.
If you have been on a Fixed Term Contract for more than 4 years and have not been moved onto an Open Ended Contract, please get in touch.
Finally, we are still looking for reps to join our departmental casualised rep network. If you want to get involved with issues around fixed-term research and teaching contracts, GTA contracts, TTO contracts, and fractional contracts, sign up here.
Many thanks to those of you who attended the anti-racism workshop hosted by San Gopalakrishnan of the BAME staff network. The session is available to view here - please have a look if you couldn’t attend. If you attended the event, please complete the feedback form available here.
An anti-racism action group was held in early October and further updates on this work will be sent shortly.
Meeting for PS members, 11th November at 1.00pm
Departmental reps and contacts meeting, 17th November at 1pm
General meeting for all members, 24th November at 1pm
July branch news
Welcome to the July edition of branch news. This is a very busy time for the branch and more than ever it’s important for members to keep up to date with the work we’re doing. If you have any questions, comments or concerns about any of the items here, please get in touch and we will do our very best to get back to you as soon as we can.
Get involved: are you interested in doing more with the branch? Sign up here.
Come to the next all-union meeting: Thursday 30th July at 1pm. Sign up here.
Formal consultation process
On 9th July the campus trade unions were served a letter under section 188 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. On the same day, the Vice Chancellor emailed all staff (‘Important update on measures to protect University finances’) outlining some of the possible actions the University is considering in terms of changes to our pay and conditions.
We strongly encourage all members to read the information outlined on this page under ‘Measures to protect University finances’, and in particular the section ‘What happens if the trade unions do not agree following consultation’. This outlines that the University is proposing to unilaterally alter our contracts where agreement cannot be reached via a process called ‘dismissal and re-engagement’ - that is, sacking and re-hiring all of us on worse terms and conditions.
You may have seen local press coverage of this plan, in particular this article in the Yorkshire Post (‘University of Sheffield denies plan to sack 8,000 staff and rehire them on lower pay’, 16th July 2020), and many of you attended the meetings we held in that week, both for UCU members alone and with the other campus unions.
In our meetings that week and in our town hall meeting last week, one theme emerged loud and clear from many of you - that you consider it entirely unacceptable that staff on lower pay should bear the brunt of any cost-cutting measures in a context where University executives enjoy vast salaries.
We expect to hold many more meetings over the course of the consultation process. Please get involved and share your views. UCU, UNISON, Unite and GMB are working closely together on this process with the support of our regional officials and we will do everything we can to challenge the University’s assertion that cuts to staff salaries is the best solution to the current situation.
Now, more than ever, it is critical that we have UCU reps and contacts in every department across the university keeping an eye out for emerging issues and ensuring that all members are informed and engaged. Becoming a rep or contact is a low time commitment -- approximately one hour a month -- but makes all the difference for our strength as a union. If you are interested in becoming a rep or contact and would like to learn more, please contact Membership Officer Katy Fox-Hodess at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Four Fights ballot
You should have received a ballot - closing on 29 July - via email on the offer from UCEA over the Four Fights dispute (email from Civica Election Services, subject line 'UCU consultative ballot'), following several updates over the last few weeks from Jo Grady, the General Secretary, and Paul Bridge, UCU’s head of Higher Education.
The negotiators, UCU’s Higher Education Committee and the branch committee are united in urging you to vote no to reject this offer. Voting no on the offer does not commit us to further industrial action at this stage.
You might find this article interesting on the argument for voting reject, written by the Corona Contract campaign who have worked tirelessly to defend casualised jobs in the sector over the last few months. This branch also voted to reject the offer at a meeting held in late May ahead of consultative meetings held with branch delegates from across the sector the following week.
We continue to meet the University on a weekly basis to discuss and negotiate the ongoing impact of Covid-19 on our working conditions and the health, safety and wellbeing of all staff. On Friday 17th July we had a meeting specifically to discuss learning and teaching in the next academic year - we are very conscious that many of our members have concerns about timetabling, face to face teaching, and the shift to blended and online delivery of our programmes. The University is exploring, in discussion with us, changes to flexible working that would see teaching stretch into non-standard hours, and we are aware that consultation has begun in some departments on this already. We understand that the University is expecting these changes to be on a voluntary basis but has not yet committed to it being only carried out on this basis. We encourage all of you to respond to the consultation frankly, and the branch is aware that for many of our members teaching at non-standard hours is neither possible nor desirable.
We are also keen to hear from those of you who have concerns about the return to face to face teaching, or about the University’s plans to ensure the safety of new students when they arrive in Sheffield in September. The current return to campus risk assessment correctly notes that the priority is to eliminate risk where possible, which means that all work that can be carried out remotely should be. We are aware that the research on the impact of Covid-19 is ongoing and changes frequently (see, for example, this recent study in Nature) and we are doing all we can to ensure that risk assessments and equality impact assessments reflect this. Please do contact us about this if you have information or thoughts about this.
Please note the announcement made in last week’s internal staff communications bulletin that staff can request up 10 days of annual leave be carried over into the next leave year.
Early career members update
In light of the requirement to make 15% cuts in department budgets, there has been a blanket ban on the hiring of GTAs in the Faculty of Social Sciences for next academic year. We are also beginning to hear about cuts to GTAs in other faculties and departments. At the moment, these cuts are being made at the Departmental and Faculty levels and are not University wide. If your department announces cuts to GTAs, please get in touch.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve been working hard to build a campaign around this. We held an emergency general meeting on GTA issues and prepared a campaign toolkit that people can use to help the fightback.
We have had some key wins in support for PGRs including the creation of a Covid-19 hardship fund and securing funded extensions for third year PGRs on University of Sheffield scholarships. There is still a lot of work to be done, however and we remain concerned about the adequacy of support for PGRs not in their final year, funding, extensions and the treatment of international and disabled PGRs.
Find out more about the work we’ve been doing in this area here.
Researchers on fixed-term contracts are facing particular issues due to uncertainties regarding job security (lack of contract renewal and employment prospects), fieldwork (lack of funding opportunities) and grant applications. If you want to join a group of ECRs organising across the university, please fill out this form (if you haven’t done so already) and you will be added to an ECR mailing list. Please also note that a meeting open to all ECRs across the university will be held on 8 September 1-2pm. More information and a link to the meeting will be sent in due course.
Researchers on fixed term contracts may not be aware that they are eligible to apply for extended electronic access to University of Sheffield resources at the end of their contact - please see here for details.
Black Lives Matter update
Following the death of George Floyd on 25th May at the hands of the United States’ police, which sparked worldwide protests and movements of solidarity with Black people being disproportionately affected by police violence and institutional racism, we held an EGM on 11th June in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and to work towards racial justice. Abdullah Mohamed and San Gopalakrishnan gave updates on the work they are doing as part of BLM Sheffield and the University’s BAME Staff Network, respectively. The EGM was attended by about 75 members, who approved two branch donations, each of £250, to Black Lives Matter UK and Lesbian Asylum Support Sheffield.
Our branch and our members are concerned about police violence and institutional racism, and it is clear we have not done enough to combat racism at the University of Sheffield. As part of this commitment to do more, and to hear from members about how we can do so, we are organising a second EGM in solidarity with BLM movements. San Gopalakrishnan of the BAME Staff Network will deliver a session aimed to explore racism in society with a particular focus on recent issues, and more specifically racism within Higher Education. There will also be a discussion on helping members tackle difficult conversations as well as practical intervention tips. We will send more information closer to the date, but do keep the date of Thursday 3rd September (1-2pm) in your diary!
Besides maintaining a supportive and ongoing dialogue with the BAME staff network, we are currently working on two further initiatives. First, we would like to organise workshops with educators specialised in anti-racism work. Second, together with members who volunteered to help out, we are developing a list of resources about how racism works (and how to resist and dismantle it) specifically in unions and in higher education. As Zahra Bei mentions, reading up on racism isn’t enough - but as a starting point we recommend the book ‘Ethnicity, Race and Inequality in the UK’ (open access) by Bridget Byrne, Claire Alexander, Omar Khan, James Nazroo and William Shankley, as well as this curated list of resources put together by the University library, based on suggestions from people across the University (here is the recommendation form). We also encourage members to suggest their own motions and statements on challenging racism in the workplace, which would help inform our branch position on this. If you’d like to get involved or feedback on any of this, please do get in touch with us.
If you have participated in the Sheffield BLM event on 6 June, or more generally would like to be kept updated by the recently created Sheffield BLM group, please fill out this form.
As we know, racism in the UK can at times overlap with the Hostile Environment faced by migrants. As such we are also seeking to support members employed on a student or work visa who may face particular difficulties in the present time. If you are an international member of staff or student and haven’t filled out this survey, please do so now, and share with your networks.
Disabled Members Forum update
With our fellow campus trade unions, Unite and UNISON, we hosted a joint forum for disabled members via Zoom on 9 July with a good turnout. This was a confidential space created for individuals to share their experiences as a disabled worker at the University of Sheffield, particularly in these unprecedented times and to provide specific updates to members about current disability work that’s taking place.
The Vice Chair of UCU”s national disabled members standing committee shared an update with members about some of the issues and concerns that have been raised nationally, such as individual experiences and perceptions around reasonable adjustments; fear of disclosure; and the intersectionality of disability with other protected characteristics. Members discussed various issues affecting them, including concerns around returning to working on-site; securing reasonable adjustments at work and through the promotions process; and redundancy-related concerns. We also discussed the ongoing work to create an institutional Disability Action Plan - formal consultation on that will begin shortly.
UCU’s national Disabled Members Standing Committee also hosts an open Tuesday ‘Tea Break’ meeting, held fortnightly from 3-4pm. This is now held on Microsoft Teams and disabled UCU members are welcome to join by getting in touch with Elane Heffernan (Chair of the DMSC) - email@example.com. The Disabled Members Network also recently put out a statement - ‘No Return to Discrimination’. Please do share this information as a means for Disabled members to connect and organise.
Nablus twinning update
On 6th July 2020 a meeting was held between members of Sheffield UCU and our colleagues from SHU UCU to discuss the Nablus twinning initiative. Sheffield TUC has officially joined as well, and discussions are ongoing with TU members across Sheffield. Several local elected representatives were also there, including Councilors Neale Gibson and Adam Hurst, Lord Mayor Tony Downing and staff from Louise Haigh's office. Also on the call were representatives from civil society organisations in Nablus and Sheffield.
There is a lot of enthusiasm about the idea of creating relationships between Sheffield and Nablus universities through the trade unions. SUCU will follow up this meeting with further discussions among interested parties - if you are interested in getting involved in the branch’s Palestine work, please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org.
May-June Branch Newsletter
Welcome to the May/ June edition of SUCU branch news, which is another bumper edition. We don’t have any ordinary general meetings planned for July and August, in line with our usual meeting schedule, but given how busy the branch is with work relating to the ongoing impact of Covid-19, we do expect to be calling more Extraordinary General Meetings soon. Please do keep an eye out for those if you are not on annual leave, and if you have any questions or comments on any of the items here, please get in touch.
Covid-19 updates: job losses and cuts
We continue to meet with the University on a weekly basis, alongside UNISON and Unite, to discuss the changes that we’re all experiencing as a result of Covid-19. We have significant concerns about the scale and pace of the decisions being made in response to outcomes that are not yet known.
On 10th June the University opened another Voluntary Severance Scheme (VSS), the third such scheme since 2009. The campus unions were given just 24 hours’ notice of the scheme opening and we were not consulted on its terms. Long-time members who remember previous schemes will be aware that the terms are less generous than they have been at some points in the past, and we advise anyone considering applying to the scheme to consider their options very carefully.
We are extremely concerned about the non-renewal of fixed term contracts and the potential impact on GTA roles as a result of the financial planning for next year currently being undertaken. Please see below for further details on how to support casualised colleagues in your work area. This forms part of a wider cost-cutting exercise in which budgets are being slashed across the institution and we fully appreciate that these are very anxious and uncertain times.
The University is required to do everything it can to make savings before it pursues compulsory redundancies and we will be scrutinising those efforts as closely as possible. We recently made a formal request for the financial information that we need in order to do that properly, and to which we are entitled under our recognition agreements.
As we move towards a planned return to some face-to-face teaching in September, we are conscious that members may have concerns relating to their health, workloads, childcare or other factors. We are working closely with the University on all aspects of health and safety arising from the return to work and we want to accurately represent the concerns you might have in those areas, so please do get in touch with us about this.
Casual and fixed-term contract organising updates
Members in departments across at least two Faculties are beginning to hear either that their fixed-term teaching contracts will not be renewed or that casual work they might have expected to undertake as GTAs is unlikely to be available next year. Thank you to all of you who have drawn attention to this on social media, solicited support from your students, and worked with the branch on developing a toolkit for resisting these changes. You can follow #PrecarityStories on twitter for personal testimony from affected members, much of which is harrowing reading. Please do everything possible to support casualised colleagues if you are on an open-ended contract.
Research-focused staff on fixed-term contracts are coming up against specific challenges in the face of drastic cuts and changes being implemented by the university - in particular grant and visa issues. A group of ECRs in the Interdisciplinary Centre of Social Sciences (ICOSS) has been discussing ways of responding to these challenges, and would like to reach out to other fixed-term researchers in similar positions across the university. To do this we are creating a mailing list, so if this is relevant to you please fill out this google form. (Please note: the date of 2020 that appears on the form can be modified as needed!). Data submitted on this form will only be used for the purposes of creating the mailing list and for better understanding the problems that are faced by fixed term researchers. All processing of data will be in line with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
You may have seen recent coverage in the local press of both these job losses and the voluntary severance scheme. The University is one of the largest employers in the city and job losses here have a knock on impact elsewhere. We were pleased to see that local MPs have written to Gavin Williamson recently to demand that the government do more to financially support the sector, and we’d urge you to make as much noise as you can about the likely impact of these losses: not just on our colleagues and friends, but on our students, and on the wider community.
Please have a look here at our toolkit for organising against the loss of casualised contracts and please get in touch with us if you have any questions or would like support from the branch committee on this.
On a national level, Corona Contract are working to solidify support for casualised jobs across branches and you can see more about the campaign on their website or follow on twitter. Please do support it: the loss of work for thousands of people in the early stage of their careers will be devastating for the sector.
Support for international PGR students
Please have a look at a letter written here by international PGR students and consider supporting.
Report back from branch Annual General Meeting (AGM)
On 4th June we held our AGM, which heard reports from the outgoing branch officers and the election of the new branch committee. Many grateful thanks to outgoing committee members who have put in a huge effort supporting the work of the branch over the years: Gill Brown, Miriam Miller, Lauren Selfe, Rob Stanton, Emma Nagouse and Grace Whitfield, and a warm welcome to members elected at the AGM or co-opted since the last one, Elena Simon, Caroline Metz, Andrea Genovese, Tim Herrick and Lisa Stampnitzsky.
We also discussed and passed a motion of support for a citywide initiative twinning with Nablus in the West Bank.
We need to alert you to a change to the subscription rates that wasn’t mentioned in the treasurer’s report at the AGM: the fourth subs band break has been raised from £20k to £22k, which means that members earning between £20k and £21,999 will see their subs reduce from £20.49 (£20.32 excluding the political fund) to £13.12 (£13.02), including the local subs. If you know anyone in this salary range who might be tempted to join at this news, please let them know.
Professional Services (PS) staff meetings
We continue to hold meetings for all PS members on a monthly basis and held the most recent one on Wednesday 24th June. The next dates are scheduled for 31st July and 27th August, both 1 - 2pm, and PS members will receive invitations and reminders nearer the time.
These meetings provide a forum for PS colleagues to get together and share concerns and discuss upcoming issues. Please go along to one if you haven’t yet, or tell other colleagues in your work area about them if you’re already a regular. We often hear that PS colleagues don’t feel fully represented by UCU and this is our main forum locally for rectifying that.
We are very keen to hear from any PS colleagues interested in being co-opted on to the branch committee, since for the first time in many years PS members are currently under-represented. Please get in touch with email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to get involved.
Black Lives Matter and anti-racist organising
On 11th June we held an EGM to discuss Black Lives Matter and antiracism work at the University and within UCU. The meeting heard from speakers from the BAME staff network here at the University and from Sheffield BLM, before discussing the various ways that UCU members can support antiracism work at Sheffield. A range of actions and outcomes were agreed and committee members will take those forward. Do get in touch with us if you would like to help with work on this.
We will be hosting a workshop led by members of the BAME staff network - watch this space for more details and further information soon.
You may be interested in following the Sheffield BLM Facebook page.
TUC survey on BME workers and coronavirus
The massive and disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on black and minority ethnic workers has become clear in recent weeks. The TUC need your support to enable BME workers to share their experiences of unfair treatment and racism at work during this crisis. Please complete this survey and share with other BME colleagues.
Dispute updates and fighting fund levy
At the AGM, we also reported on the current status of the disputes with Universities UK and UCEA that have been ongoing throughout this academic year. UCU’s National Executive Committee met on the 8th June to decide the next steps in the dispute, which have been laid out in an email to all members from the General Secretary dated 11th June. We will be sending further updates ahead of the expected ballot on the Four Fights offer and the Sector Conference to determine the future of the USS dispute.
You will also have seen the recent emails from the General Secretary about the fighting fund levy. We intend to bring this to our next branch meeting to discuss a collective response to the announcement there, in the hope of seeking to avoid lower-paid and casualised colleagues being disadvantaged by it.
Disabled Members Forum - Thursday, 9 July, 2pm to 4pm
The three main campus trade unions, Unison, Unite and UCU, have been concerned for some time about significant issues disabled staff face at the university. These range from a general lack of awareness of disability by line managers, inconsistencies in access to and timeliness of reasonable adjustments, and more. Covid-19 has exacerbated these long term issues. We are engaged in current plans to create an institutional disability action plan, however we recognise that this needs to address the issues our disabled members face. Before formal consultation begins shortly, we have jointly called a cross trade union meeting to discuss the development of the action plan, Covid-19 and any other issues disabled staff at the university are facing. This meeting will be held via Zoom. Please register here, including any specific adjustments you need to facilitate your participation. We also encourage you to circulate this information to fellow disabled colleagues.