October Branch News: Release, RIP PIPs and more

We kick off a local anti-casualisation campaign at our Action Group next week (Wed 2 Nov, 1-2pm, DB12 Bartolome House). Please come and invite any you know who are affected, whether members or not. See more details below.

October Branch News

The university reveals a ‘release scheme’, we put the nail in the coffin of PIPs and start to focus locally on pay inequality and casualisation.

Last week the university unveiled a Staff Release Scheme, a measure brought in by its Strategy Delivery Group as a response to the university’s financial forecasts. We are concerned that members may be under the impression that

  • the university’s actions are a direct result of the EU-referendum (they’re not: these concerns predate the vote);
  • rising staff costs are the main problem (they’re not: staff costs have fallen as a proportion of income);
  • the university is strapped for cash (it’s not: it’s choosing to prioritize eye-watering levels of capital spending);
  • the university can’t afford fair pay increases (it can: it’s factored into its forecasts an undisclosed, probably sizeable, figure);
  • the unions negotiated the Staff Release Scheme (we didn’t: it was presented to us with no consultation);
  • the Strategy Delivery Group is doing its best to be transparent (it’s not: it reports only to the VC with no publicly available minutes or union representation).

The Staff Release Scheme, a voluntary redundancy scheme in all but name and legal obligations, will see accepted staff leaving with a month’s pay for each year they’ve worked, subject to a minimum of 4 and a maximum of 9. The scheme is open to all staff and is an individual decision. Staff must not feel pressured or coerced by managers or colleagues into applying for release, especially if it is felt that pressure or coercion is on the grounds of age, disability or any other protected characteristic as this is discrimination and, depending on individual cases, illegal. Likewise, while there is no appeal, the University does have obligations to make decisions fairly and we’ll be on the lookout for any bad decision-making. Please get in touch with any information or concerns.

You should have received an e-ballot this week from head office titled ‘UCU consultation on higher education pay‘ relating to the current pay dispute. Please vote in this ballot, answering the questions as best you can. If you haven’t received this email, contact ebailey@ucu.org.uk, with either your membership number or the email address used by UCU. In the meantime, please continue to work to contract and turn down external examining posts as before as the dispute is still live.

In a piece of good news, we signed off a revision to the university’s capability procedures this month which signals the end to Personal Improvement Plans (PIPs), the misuse of which were causing significant amounts of case-work for us and significant distress for some staff. In their place, the university has created ISPs (Improvement Support Plans) which are significantly more than a change in terminology in that they build in much better safeguards (eg. SMART objectives) against the kinds of misuse we complained about. We hope that those currently on a PIP will have their case reviewed and moved to an ISP as soon as possible and no new PIPs should be issued. Please let us know if you are on a PIP and have problems moving to an ISP, or if you are given a new PIP.

We have continued discussions with the university over its recent moves to outsource functions, and received an update on the newly outsourced Occupational Health provision, provided by Health Management Limited. The university has told us that this change has been cost-neutral and has decreased waiting times. We are interested to hear from people who have been referred as to their experiences, as it’s clear that no data on this has been looked at by university management. We also have concerns that HML’s parent company is Maximus, whose performance with regards the government’s fitness-to-work tests has been questionable.

You may be aware of the Student Union’s ‘Shef better than TEF’, which is designed to develop alternatives to the University’s participation in the Teaching Excellence Framework. It is based on the assertion that the TEF will increase the marketisation of HE at Sheffield, is based on flawed measures of excellence, and will adversely affect societal attitudes to education without improving teaching standards. We hope to give the campaign our full support. Staff who would like to be involved are encouraged to contact the campaign directly at campaigns@sheffield.ac.uk and sign the open letter to the VC.

Sheffield UCU Committee

Action Group: local anti-casualisation campaign launch

We are devoting our November Action Group meeting to a planning session on how to campaign locally on over-used casualisation in the university workforce. We will be joined by regional and national representatives for the brainstorming session. This meeting is open to all, and we would like to invite casually employed staff whether members or not, so please forward this message on as appropriate.

Action Group: anti-casualisation campaign launch
Wednesday 2 Nov, 1-2pm
DB12 Bartolome House *Note venue!*

Victory at Coventry! But problems elsewhere

We are very pleased to report that Coventry University has been forced to backtrack on plans to use a subsidiary company to employ some teaching staff on agency contracts which would give them worse employment conditions and no union recognition. You can read more about the victory here. Thanks to those who signed the petition.

Unfortunately, the picture elsewhere is less rosy, with London Metropolitan University now subject to a public censure from UCU for their recent actions, with potential for it to become full international academic boycott if the university’s management do not respond in a positive way to the demands of the union. You can read more about the situation here.

Free drop-in financial advice in Sheffield: Mon 14th Nov

Lighthouse Financial Advice, the approved adviser for UCU and other public sector unions are holding free drop-in 30-minute sessions for Sheffield UCU members on Monday 14th November between 10am and 3.30pm. The sessions will take place at the UCU office on Hounsfield Road. For how to book and more information, see here.

Dates for the Diary

  • Wed 2 November, 1-2pm, DB12 Bartolome House: Action Group Anti-Casualisation launch
  • Tue 15 November, 1-2pm, Chancellors Room, Firth Court: Departmental Contacts Meeting
  • Wed 23 November, 1-2pm, Alfred Denny Conference Room, General Meeting
  • Thu 19 January, 1-2pm, UEB Meeting Room, Firth Court, Departmental Contacts Meeting
  • Thu 26 January, 1-2pm, Council Room, Firth Court, General Meeting