November Branch News: A new valuation and a new ballot
November Branch News
This week is our final General Meeting of 2018, and it’s a big one! Over the past two weeks, there have been major developments in both our Fair and Equal Pay dispute and in the USS dispute, and we’ll be discussing how we can smash anti-trade union law in the Spring 2019 reballot on fair and equal pay.
- General Meeting: Thursday, 29 November 1-2pm, Council Room, Firth Court. Agenda here
- Minutes of the 29 October Extraordinary General Meeting, and the 31 October General Meeting
National UCU news
On 7 November, UCU held an HE Special Sector Conference, with the morning focused on the pay equality dispute, and the afternoon on USS. Read our delegates’ full report here.
RE-BALLOT on Fair and Equal pay
In the Autumn ballot, Sheffield voted overwhelmingly in favor of strike action (69%), with 50% participation, making us one of 8 HE branches in the UK to pass the 50% threshold imposed by anti-trade union law. Many of the branches who missed this threshold did so by a mere handful of votes, and as a union, our aggregate response rate was 42%, with 68.9% voting for strike action, showing incredibly strong support for this campaign. If not for a deliberately obstructive piece of legislation, 134 out of 147 UCU branches in HE would have a mandate to be on strike right now. For comparison, that is over double the number of branches that were part of the USS strikes — the largest strike action in UCU’s history to date.
Last week, UCU members at the three London colleges that make up Capital City College Group (CCCG) ended an 8 day strike which resulted in a winning a 5% pay rise for all members earning less than £55,000/yr (backdated to December 2018), as well as several other significant concessions. Industrial action is incredibly powerful.
Our employer learned this lesson hard way during the USS strikes, and they are very aware that they need to be worried about it now. This is why in October, they were advised by the Pinsent Masons to “make a direct appeal to staff to abstain or vote against a trade union ballot for strike action.” Industrial action is our last resort mechanism against unacceptable and unsustainable working conditions, a way to force negotiation with an employer who will not negotiate.
Casualisation, crushing workloads, and pay inequalities harm every UCU member. They harm our undergraduate students. They harm our families. And they harm our newest post-graduate and ECR members most of all. And year on year, our employer refuses to negotiate on them, while at the same time actively misrepresenting their ability to right these wrongs.These are exactly the unacceptable and unsustainable working conditions we have to fight.
At our Extraordinary GM on 29th October, SUCU passed a motion calling for an HE-wide aggregated re-ballot in early Spring 2019. This was passed as Motion 5 at the HE Special Sector conference, and is now the official national policy of UCU: We are re-balloting on fair and equal pay and we need your help. We can beat the 50% threshold at a national level, but it will require all hands on deck.
How can I get involved?
- Attend our action group on activism and local organising on 10 December, 4-5pm, in Hicks F41. Come help shape our GTVO campaign, and help us grow our local campaigns on casualisation, workload, and gender equality into national framework agreements that can help every single member of UCU. After the meeting, we’ll be adjourning to the Uni Arms to continue discussing rank and file activism and how much we want week 12 to be over, so if you can’t make the meeting at 4, come join us after work!
A report from First Actuarial on the 2017 valuation is only the latest to highlight the fundamental methodological issues with Test 1, and to actively question the governance of USS, asking “Is the Trustee in control?”. This follows on from the independent Joint Expert Panel report and the efforts of members since April to keep pressure on USS to be more forthcoming about how they value our scheme, which has forced further scrutiny & openness about the use and implications of Test 1.
Each of these sources have supported the conclusion that the aggressive de-risking pursued by USS and UUK was unnecessary, and has entirely vindicated our decision to strike. As a direct result of our continued collective efforts, the USS Trustee announced last week that they intend to conduct a new valuation of USS in 2019, based on the scheme’s funding position of March 2018. Implementation of the JEP’s recommendations, which are predicated on strong asset growth, suggest that a 2018 valuation is likely to conclude — as we have always argued is correct and fair – a broadly #NoDeficitNoDetriment outcome for members.
We are not out of the woods yet though. Bill Galvin and the USS Trustee still intend to impose the cost-sharing that arose out of the 2017 valuation, and to use Test 1 in the new valuation, demonstrating a lack of integrity and humility in the face of the repeated discrediting of the 2017 valuation and its methodology.
Our branch will continue to oppose this negligence.
Disability History Month
Last week was the first week of National Disability History Month, and on 21 November, UCU held its first annual Day of Action on Disability Equality. If you missed our local events, you can learn about the experience of disability here at Sheffield from this anonymous blog post, by five members of the SUCU community: Inclusion is within everyone’s ability: The reality of disability at TUoS. Additionally, a group of local SUCU activists have put together this must read pamphlet on disability support and advocacy resources.
Workload and Stress campaign
Workplace safety — particularly stress — is one of the most pressing issues that SUCU members speak to our case workers about. In line with the national campaign on workload which is part of our ongoing Casualisation, Equalities, Pay and Workload dispute, we are beginning our own local campaign on workload.
To kick off this campaign, we designed a short survey on health and safety and circulated it to you two weeks ago. Thanks to everyone who has already taking our survey, and if you haven’t, please do! It takes only 5 minutes to complete and asks for no personally identifying data. We will use it to develop action plans and open discussions with university management about the biggest areas of workplace hazards you are concerned about, and it will also feed into our local workload campaign.
Note that in order to take the survey, you must be signed into your TUoS google account, and that you may also need to sign out of all other google accounts.
Building the branch
Over the past year, SUCU has become a huge, active branch that is involved in union campaigning at an unprecedented scale. At our last GM, we passed a motion to build this branch activism from the ground up, both via our formal branch representatives network, and via informal networking by members.
How can I get involved?
However you want to be involved! We have pledged to support our members in developing informal networks, and engaging with activism from the shop floor up. Check out the Branch Activists Handbook, with contributions from a huge range of UCU activists around the country, including sections on activism over workload, anti-casualisation, and equalities issues, and union democracy and branch organisation, and contact us with ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please remember that all members can bring motions to general meetings too, or can call an emergency general meeting with 50 members’ signatures. We try hard to make the branch meetings as accessible as possible, but we know that not everyone can make it to every meeting for a range of reasons. If you have points you want to raise about proposed motions and you can’t make it, email us – one of the branch committee will make the contribution on your behalf in the meeting.
Also, make sure that we have the most up to date contact information for you by logging into your My UCU account and updating your preferred email address!
A new VC
On 1 November, Professor Koen Lamberts began his role as President and Vice Chancellor of the University of Sheffield. The new VC has taken up this role at a difficult time in HE, when staff feel a deep lack of trust in university management, both at a national and local level here at Sheffield. Moving forward, it will require a commitment to transparency and hard work to rebuild this trust that has been broken: to redress the wrongs of the USS dispute; to reverse the trends of ever declining pay and ever increasing workload; to reverse the sector (and local) reliance on precarious contracts, restructures, and redundancies; and to resist the hostile environment and support international staff facing exorbitant home office fees, and all of the other issues facing our members.
Discussions about the problems facing HE staff across all of our campus trade unions cannot begin too soon, and we are looking forward to meeting Professor Lamberts on 12 December, to discuss how the University of Sheffield can address these problems in a meaningful way.
Six FE UCU branches are going on strike over fair pay this week, including Bradford College UCU in our region. These colleges are taking two days’ action on 28th and 29th November. If you’re able, please visit them on the picket line to show support or tweet your support to #FEFightsbackMembers. Members can also donate to the fighting fund, and sign the petition calling on the government to increase funding to sustainable levels.
The Free University of Sheffield are running a Cut the Rent Campaign. Rents for University of Sheffield accommodation are becoming increasingly unaffordable – you can sign the petition calling on the University to improve things.
The RMT are still taking action every week over their ‘keep the guard on the train’ campaign. Please support them if you can – there will be a rally on Saturday 15th December supported by Sheffield TUC, so save the date, further details on location to follow.
Following a peaceful protest in support of the USS strikes in the spring, a Music and History student at SOAS, Hamish, has been singled out by SOAS management for disciplinary measures. The inconsistencies of the disciplinary process have been documented by the statement that outlines how the initial investigation and hearing obstructed Hamish’s ability to defend himself. Hamish is preparing to take his case to the Office of Independent Adjudicator, and he is raising legal funds to adequately prepare the case. We believe it is important that student activists are protected on campus. If you wish to donate to Hamish’s legal campaign, you can contribute here.