February Branch News: Restructures, USS, and more

Dear members,

February has been a busy month. We have written to the University to express concern about the number of staff currently affected by what are euphemistically called ‘change processes’ – reviews, restructures, and risk of redundancy. We are currently supporting staff in teams and departments across the institution with our colleagues in Unison and Unite, and many of you will know people who are going through this and experiencing the associated stress and anxiety.

You may remember the last widespread set of restructures undertaken by the University Leadership in 2017-2018, impacting professional services members across the entire university. Along with the other staffside trade unions, we repeatedly expressed significant concerns about not only the scale of these restructures, but the lack of consultation, and the extensive damage that it did to the staff and work areas under scope, which persists to this day. We do not want to see a repeat of this process.

As we approach the anniversary of the first UK lockdown, we want to be very clear: the University’s decisions in responding to the crisis, including the current proposed change processes, have directly contributed to worsening the situation for all of us. From the cuts that were made last summer to colleagues on fixed term contracts or casual agreements, to the s188 consultation that threatened us all with ‘fire and rehire’ and now to a sweeping programme of job insecurity, the response from our senior managers has been to be to praise our exceptional efforts on the one hand and reward us via threats to job security on the other. We are doing everything we can to secure good outcomes for our members.

We will be holding a series of meetings over the coming weeks to discuss the current restructures, our best collective next steps, and how members across all work areas can help support those impacted by this process. Please keep an eye out for notices on them, and attend if you possibly can.

We are holding several other meetings this month. Save the dates!

    Action Group on USS Wednesday 10th March 1-2 (Register to attend here)
    Equalities meeting for any member interested in being involved in SUCU equalities work, 16 March 2:15pm (Register to attend here)
    Action group on Professional Services Pay and Progression: The crisis of deskilling and downgrading
    Tuesday 23rd March 1-2 (Register to attend here)

Health and Safety update

While we await further information on how the recent government ‘road map out of lockdown’ will be implemented in HE in general and Sheffield in particular, we have been consulted on updated risk assessments across our work areas. Our health and safety advice has not changed since our last update – If you are aware of any breach of risk assessments or non-compliance with Covid safety measures you should report these formally. You can report accidents, incidents, near-misses (a near-miss includes breaches of Covid measures like social distancing or mask wearing, except where people are exempt) and dangerous occurrences here. It’s important that these are reported promptly when they occur. You are also reminded of the procedures for removal from dangerous situations, and UCU’s updated suite of letters that members might like to adapt if your circumstances are such that face to face working puts you at risk. UCU have also just updated their Covid-19 guidance for academic related & PS staff.

With the other campus unions we carried out a health and safety inspection of Western Bank and the Information Commons in the last week of February, and will report our findings back to the University.

National UCU update

The consultative ballot on whether or not to accept UCEA’s offer of a real terms pay cut has now closed. Delegates from the branch attended a branch briefing session immediately after the EGM we held to discuss the offer on 12th February. Thank you to everyone who attended that meeting or sent in your thoughts by email – we heard a lot of feedback from you, ranging from considerable anger over the continued erosion of our pay and the refusal from UCEA to engage fully with the equalities-related elements of the pay claim to a general sense of exhaustion at the prospect of further industrial action in the immediate future. That feedback has been shared, and UCU’s Higher Education Committee will decide the next steps.

Interim online Congress was held over two days this month as well. Your branch delegates were Sam Marsh, Katy Fox-Hodess, Amy Ryall, Elena Simon and Jess Meacham, and we will try to write a full delegates’ report if time and workloads allow as soon as we can. In the meantime, you can view the motions that were carried (and a couple that fell) here. We’d like in particular to draw your attention to motions concerning how the union handles instances of sexual violence and supporting survivors, one of which came from Sheffield (motions 21 to 23) and late motion 2, which argues for new H&S related policy. There are lots of other good motions in there too so please do read them!

Elections to UCU’s National Executive Committee have closed and the results will be announced on Monday, 8 March- we hope that many of you were able to vote and we look forward to seeing the new NEC line up soon.

USS valuation announced

USS this week revealed what they see as the final contribution rates resulting from the 2020 valuation, and they are staggeringly high, with total contributions somewhere between 42% and 59% of salary. Early signs are that employers may be as unconvinced as many members are that this represents a realistic assessment of the situation, which could put USS under significant pressure to reassess. Come to our USS-themed Action Group on Wednesday 10 March, 1-2pm to hear the latest.

Professional Services

We held the monthly meeting for PS members in February and agreed delegates to the annual meeting and a motion that will support branches across the sector who represent PS staff to submit claims around pay and progression. If you’re interested in getting involved in this work, come along to an action group on 23th March to discuss it further!


The increasing use of fixed term contracts for Professional Services staff was raised during the February PS meeting. If any PS members are interested in getting involved in existing anti-casualisation work going on in the branch then please let us know.

SUCU Equalities work

Over the past year, SUCU has been working to expand our network of members involved in organising around equalities issues. For this year’s UCU annual week of action against workplace racism, our Sheffield UCU Anti-Racism working group wrote a series of blog posts on embedding anti-racist work in education, social movements, and unions, culminating in a Wall of Action. If you want to get involved in progressing SUCU’s anti-racist work, please get in touch with ucu@sheffield.ac.uk!

The UCU Disabled Members Standing Committee has recently published an event accessibility checklist, with a specific focus on union events. SUCU is looking for members who want to be involved in developing proposals around accessibility in our work. If you’re interested in getting involved, please get in touch.

More broadly, if you want to get involved in Sheffield UCU equalities work of any (or all) types, there will be a general equalities meeting to discuss ongoing and new campaigns on 16 March, at 2:15pm.