October Branch News: Beyond the ballot

October Branch News

With so much happening at a local and national level, we are very aware that an hour is not enough time for a full member discussion, so in addition to our monthly General Meeting on the 31st, we are calling an Extraordinary General Meeting on 29 October to discuss the ongoing Fair Pay and USS disputes.

    Extraordinary General Meeting on the Fair pay and USS disputes: 1-2pm 29 October, Hicks Lecture Theatre 7.
    Monthly GM: 1-2pm 31 October, Firth Court Council Room, guest Douglas Chalmers (UCU VP). Agenda here.
    Party: After the GM on 31 October, we are having a Halloween branch party at the Devonshire Cat, from 5:30pm. Let us know if you’re coming by RSVPing here, and we hope to see everyone there! In honor of the holiday, there will be prizes for the best union themed fancy dress.
    Pay dispute action Group:1-2pm 7 November, Hicks F38

National UCU news

Fair and Equal pay ballot

The results of the ballot on Fair and Equal pay are out. Sheffield has voted overwhelmingly in favor of both strike action (69%) and action short of a strike (78%), with 50% participation. Across both HE and FE, many branches voted in support of strike action and a lot by very substantial margins – but very few branches reached the 50% threshold required by the Trade Union Act.

This is undoubtedly a disappointing and surprising result, but it still remains the largest turnout UCU has ever had on a ballot over pay. Aggregating across HE, there is a 42% turnout, with 68.9% of respondents voting yes to strike action. This is a huge step for our union, and it only underscores the increased involvement of our members over the past year.

Locally, we want to thank everyone who took part in the ballot and GTVO campaign. Sheffield did make the 50% cutoff, and it is because of your work and engagement over these last months. Although national strike action will be impossible, we want to stress that we remain in dispute over fair and equal pay. The crisis of increasing casualisation and workloads have not disappeared. The gender pay gap in this country, and our sector, remains. The stark generational decline in pay is still unacceptable, and we know — from looking at the University of Sheffield’s own budget — that the funds to pay staff fairly do exist.

We are still in dispute, and a lack of national result on this ballot does not mean we will stop fighting for these issues, either at a local or a national level. The members of this branch committee are already discussing the next steps of this dispute. And we want all of our members involved in that discussion.

4 representatives from SUCU will be attending a regional conference on the pay dispute on 7 November, and on the same day, we will be hosting a local pay dispute action group. We want to talk to as many of our members as possible about what Sheffield UCU, as a branch, wants to happen moving forward. If you can, please attend our EGM on Monday, 29 October, speak with your department representatives, come to the pay dispute action group. If you want to be involved with our local pay dispute committee, please contact us at ucu@sheffield.ac.uk.


We emailed you all last week about Sam Marsh’s recent analysis showing that the valuation methodology used by USS is fundamentally flawed, providing further evidence that there is no deficit, and that our pensions scheme does not require the aggressive de-risking that was argued for by USS, UUK, and our own new VC Koen Lamberts, in his previous role as Chair of the Employers’ Pension Forum for Higher Education. USS themselves have responded that Sam’s analysis is “not wrong in isolation.” Since then, developments have been happening daily. To catch up on Sam’s analysis as well as USS’ initial response, we highly recommend this article by FT Pensions correspondent Josephine Cumbo, as well as this summary of events published in USS briefs. Here also is a link to Sam’s original report of his findings, and Mike Otsuka has written several blogs on the topic throughout this week and last, with this one being the most recent.

We know this is an enormous amount of new information to keep track of at an extremely busy time of year! We will be giving an update of all of the developments to date at our EGM next Monday as well.

SUCU news

This week sees the return of the Staff Survey, and while we were very glad to hear that for the first time the University will be surveying casual staff and graduate teaching assistants alongside the rest of the workforce, we remain concerned that University management claims that the staff survey is sufficient as an institution-wide risk assessment. Given this, it is especially important we let them know about areas where we’re feeling the pressure, and we urge all SUCU members to complete the form fully and honestly. If you missed our blog post on stress, workload and mental health two weeks ago, read it here. Results from the staff survey will be important for everyone, particularly now, as we transition to our new PVC Koen Lamberts – so please do complete it.

The Branch Activists Handbook, with contributions from a huge range of UCU activists around the country, has come out! There is a lot of excellent material in it, including sections on activism over workload, anti-casualisation, and equalities issues, and a submission on union democracy and branch organisation by our own VP Jess Meacham.

In related news, we are asking for expressions of interest for a possible new role of Branch Governance and Policy Officer. This role would involve taking an overview of current university policy and governance, as it relates to our ongoing local and national campaigns. Please write us at ucu@sheffield.ac.uk if you are potentially interested in this role, or have questions about it.

As we mentioned last month, we are also seeking more members to be involved in branch case work, particularly given the high volume of work that has arisen surrounding Sheffield’s continuing restructures of professional services teams. Again, please write us at ucu@sheffield.ac.uk if you are interested or have questions about this.

Upcoming Events

Saturday 27 October: Stop and Scrap Universal Credit rally, 11.30am – 1.30pm, Sheffield Town Hall

Tuesday, 30 October: From Trump to Tommy Robinson… How can we stop the racist and fascist right?. 6:00 – 7:30pm, Sheffield Hallam University

Thursday, 8 November: Support Northern Train Guards: Public Meeting, 6.00pm – 8.00pm, Showroom Cinema and Workstation