Autumn Branch News
Local negotiations summary
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
We ran a survey on anti casualisation earlier this year – you can read the report based on your responses. Please have a look.
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