June Branch News: a ballot on pay, and the VC hears our concerns

Come to our AGM and party tomorrow!

  • AGM, Thursday 7 June, 1pm (sandwich lunch from 12.45), Council Room, Firth Court
  • End of year party, Thursday 7 June, 7.30pm, Hagglers Corner (get your free ticket)

June Branch News

With pension discussions delegated to an expert panel, the annual pay offer is badly judged, and we meet again with Sir Keith to firm up plans for the future.

Last week saw the first meeting of the Joint Expert Panel (JEP), established to report on the valuation which resulted in the bitter dispute over USS earlier this year. Joining the chair are three nominees from UCU and three from UUK. The terms of reference include a presumption of confidentiality, but we have been told that the chair is keen on transparency where possible. We have yet to hear any reports on how the work is going, but will share whatever we get. Our fingers are crossed.

We expect a consultative ballot over the annual pay offer to land imminently. With mammoth gender pay gaps, chronic casualisation and unmanageable workloads across the sector, the final offer from the employers falls short of the action UCU demanded, and is backed by a headline figure of just 2% on the pay spine: yet another real-terms pay cut. This is a dismal response to a spring of discontent. Time for vice-chancellors to think again? The ballot will come with a recommendation from UCU to reject the offer, and we strongly recommend that members vote in favour of industrial action.

A panel of UCU committee members met with the vice-chancellor again on Monday to discuss unfinished business from the USS dispute. Top of the agenda was the use of the strike pay deductions, likely to total over £1m. We will be in touch with departmental contacts to provide details of this discussion, but we have confirmed that the money does not need to be spent by the end of the academic financial year, and that departments who choose to do so could return the money to a central pot to be allocated to student-facing projects, in discussion with the Students Union. There may also be scope for departments to donate the money to specific university level projects of their choosing. We strongly recommend that student-staff committees be involved in discussions about how the money is spent, to ensure that it is used for students.

The wide-ranging discussion with the VC also included the need for greater support for our international staff (and for Sheffield to put itself at the forefront of a campaign), improved representation of the staff voice in the university’s governance, the need for a reformed USS Working Group to prepare for the outcomes of the JEP and more. We pointed out how constructive the meetings with the vice-chancellor have been, and asked for them to become regularised. We hope that they will.

You may not be aware of the large-scale restructuring that is going on at the university, with many fellow members in very uncertain positions. The university management has a right to review its operations, but it must do so according to the policies and procedures they have agreed with us, and we holding them to this as best we can. Added to this, those in Jessop West have been banned from opening windows due to a dangerous design flaw, and this policy has had significant knock-on effects including a ban on out-of-hours access. The claim that there is nothing that can be done until the legal aspects have been looked into (which could take up to a year) is hard to accept and causing significant anger.

Finally, if you haven’t yet lost office bins from your department, it may only be a matter of time. Sold as a green initiative, but more likely to be a misguided attempt at an efficiency saving, you might like to read and sign this open letter to EFM on concerns that this could lead to job losses for cleaners and increased workload elsewhere. Those who attended our ‘how to write like a manager’ teach-out may be especially amused by Aberystwyth University’s announcement of a similar policy.

Appeal for Ahmed

You may have heard about the case of Ahmed Sedeeq, the Sheffield University PhD student held for 10 days during the Christmas holiday season in Morton Hall Immigration Removal Centre, who is fighting against being deported to Iraq.

Because of the hostile environment policy, Ahmed is now finding himself with impending housing issues as his passport is still with the Home Office and he is unable to get adequate housing without showing a landlord proof of his right to stay in the UK. Ahmed must move out of his flat by the end of July.

Unis Resist Border Controls is looking for lecturers and/or PhD students who might have a spare room in Sheffield that they could provide Ahmed so that he does not find himself destitute. If you can help, please contact them at UnisResistBorderControls@gmail.com.

What on earth happened at Congress?

You may have heard about last week’s fraught national Congress meeting, where staff walkouts brought about significant disruptions to proceedings. Please do read our delegates’ report on what went on, which will be discussed at our AGM on Thursday. We also highly recommend the superb USS Briefs podcasts made this weekend, featuring discussions with delegates from Sheffield, Exeter, Oxford and KCL among others, and this highly articulate article by Craig Gent.

Sheffield UCU Committee