January Branch News

Dear all,

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

Covid update

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 katy.fox-hodess@sheffield.ac.uk

Action groups

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.

Anticasualisation Campaign

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: wchornett1@sheffield.ac.uk. 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 ucu@sheffield.ac.uk.

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: katy.fox-hodess@sheffield.ac.uk.


    TUC – is anyone interested in being a delegate to the Trades Council? Please let us know if so by contacting us at ucu@sheffield.ac.uk
    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)