Browse questions and answers for University staff

We will continue to add information to this page as and when it is available.

If you can't find the information you need, contact your HR team or email industrial.action@sheffield.ac.uk

For student FAQs please visit: www.sheffield.ac.uk/students/industrialaction


Introduction to the industrial action

Currently there are ongoing disputes throughout the higher education sector about the USS pension scheme and national pay negotiations. On Thursday 31 October 2019, following a ballot of its members, the University and College Union (UCU) achieved a mandate for industrial action over these disputes here at Sheffield and at around 60 other UK universities.

UCU asked its members to take strike action from Monday 25 November to Friday 29 November 2019 and from Monday 2 December to Wednesday 4 December 2019 inclusive. UCU has also asked its members to take action short of a strike from 25 November 2019 until 29 April 2020 at the latest.

We are continuing to work in partnership with the trade unions to address these matters locally and will continue to use our influence to try to shape the national debate.

About the disputes and industrial action:

What are the disputes about?

There are two key disputes running concurrently – one about pay and related matters, and the other about the sector-wide USS pension scheme.

The pay issues relate to the outcome of the 2019-20 national pay negotiations, along with concerns over casual working, workloads, and addressing the gender pay gap. Trade unions are seeking an increase in the outcome of the national pay negotiations and agreements to national level work on the related matters.

The dispute over the sector-wide USS pension scheme relates to an increase in contribution rates, which the USS Trustee has decided are necessary to maintain the existing pension benefits. As a result the University's contribution rates (quoted as a percentage of salaries of USS members) increased in October 2019 by 1.6 per cent and member contributions have increased by 0.8 per cent. The UCU position is that all of the increase should be borne by the employers.

What is the University's view on the disputes?

These are complex matters and are issues which are of concern to us in Sheffield as well as across the higher education sector. We are continuing to work in partnership with the trade unions to address these matters locally and will continue to use our influence to try to shape the national debate.

With regards to the national pay negotiations and related matters, we continue to participate in national negotiations between the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association (UCEA) and the recognised higher education trade unions, a process supported by our trade unions locally. Further information can be found here.

We have followed the advice of our national negotiators and implemented the 1.8 per cent headline offer for all staff effective as of 1 August 2019 – you will have received this increase in your September 2019 pay, backdated to August. We have also agreed with our local trade unions to remove the lowest point on our pay scales. As a result, nearly 400 of our staff on grades 1 and 2 received a pay increase of 5.65 per cent. This means our minimum pay rate is £9.17 per hour. This is above the Living Wage Foundation voluntary rate of £9 per hour.

We also continue to work with our local trade unions on a range of matters which are of concern to them and colleagues across the sector to find ways to address issues such as workload pressures, stress and mental health concerns, casual working and gender and ethnicity pay gaps. Read more about our joint work here.

We have also reached an agreement with UCU over casual teaching arrangements and are committed to further joint work. Read our joint statement.

With regards to the sector-wide USS pension scheme, we have been working very closely with UCU over the past 18 months to better understand and address these issues and we share many joint aims and perspectives. We want to see a scheme which is good quality, sustainable and affordable and we share some of the concerns that UCU has raised. Further information can be found here.

Which trade unions balloted for industrial action?

Three of our recognised trade unions, the University and College Union (UCU), UNISON and Unite balloted their membership to seek a mandate for industrial action - UCU and UNISON over both the sector-wide USS pension scheme and the national pay negotiations, and Unite over national pay negotiations only.

What was the outcome of the ballots?

On Thursday 31 October 2019, we received notification that UCU obtained a mandate for action over both issues here in Sheffield and at 60 other UK universities. They have a mandate for strike action and action short of a strike (ASOS).

UNISON and Unite did not achieve a mandate for action. As such they will not be asking their members to take action.

What form will the industrial action take and when will it happen?

UCU asked its members to take strike action from Monday 25 November to Friday 29 November 2019 and from Monday 2 December to Wednesday 4 December 2019 inclusive.

UCU are also asking its members to take action short of a strike (ASOS) from 25 November 2019 until 29 April 2020 at the latest. ASOS is when trade union members engage in an action that falls short of a full withdrawal of labour, sometimes known as partial performance of the contractual duties.

This can take many forms including a refusal to carry out specific duties or responsibilities. In the current UCU ballot, the trade union may ask its members to take ASOS in the form of:

  • Working to contract
  • Not undertaking any voluntary activities
  • Not covering for absent colleagues
  • Not rescheduling lectures or classes missed/cancelled due to strike action
  • Not sharing materials relating to lectures or classes or work cancelled/missed as a result of strike action

The ballot included a mandate for a marking and assessment boycott, however UCU have not included this as part of their current action.

What is Action Short of a Strike (ASOS)?

ASOS is when trade union members engage in an action that falls short of a full withdrawal of labour.

ASOS can take many forms including a refusal to carry out specific duties or responsibilities. This can sometimes mean the partial performance of contractual duties (a breach of contract) or the withdrawal of co-operation over certain practices.

In the current UCU ballot, the trade union may ask its members to take ASOS in the form of:

  • Working to contract
  • Not undertaking any voluntary activities
  • Not covering for absent colleagues
  • Not rescheduling lectures or classes missed/cancelled due to strike action
  • Not sharing materials relating to lectures or classes or work cancelled/missed as a result of strike action

The ballot included a mandate for a marking and assessment boycott, however UCU have not included this as part of their current action.

The University's position on ASOS and pay is outlined within these FAQs.

Taking part in industrial action:

If I take part in action what will it mean for me?

As this action is lawful you will be protected from dismissal as a result of taking action which results in a breach of your contract of employment. You may however be subject to deductions of pay as a result of doing so. Please read FAQs below for more information.

Who should I inform if I decide to participate in strike action?

If you participate in the industrial action, you must complete the strike notification form (Word, 32.1KB) and submit it to your Head of Department who will forward to industrial.action@sheffield.ac.uk for processing.

At the latest you must complete and submit the notification form on the first day you are back at work following the end of the strike action.

Who should I inform if I decide to take action short of a strike?

Following further discussion with UCU you are not required to submit the ASOS notification form. However, if your manager asks you whether you are undertaking action short of a strike, you should respond truthfully.

What will be the impact on my pay if I take part in the strike action?

Participation in strike action will result in a breach of your contract of employment. Consequently, if you choose to take strike action you will have a day’s pay deducted for each day that you are striking. The daily rate of pay for calculating pay deductions will be deemed to be 1/365th of annual salary for a full-time employee, pro-rated for part-time staff.

The University’s principles and approach to pay deductions are available here. The withholding of pay is without prejudice to any other right or remedy which the University has in relation to staff who participate in industrial action, including any claim for damages for breach of contract.

UCU members may be able to access funds via UCU’s Strike Fund.

What will be the impact on pay if I take action short of a strike?

The action short of a strike called by UCU has the potential to have a serious impact on our students. However, at this stage, we will not deduct any pay from staff who participate in this type of action.

We will assess the impact of any action on an ongoing basis and review our decision accordingly. If our position needs to change, we would only make pay deductions if there is a breach of the contract of employment.

If we do decide to make any deductions, based on breach of contract, we will send prior notice of the implementation of deductions. This will enable the relevant staff members to choose whether or not to continue to participate in action short of a strike before deductions are made.

The University’s principles and approach to pay deductions are available here. This will govern how the University manages situations of dispute resolution including those involving industrial action.

How will pay deductions be made?

If you choose to take strike action you are required to complete the strike notification form and return it to your Head of Department. Each day that you participate in the action will be calculated as 1/365th of your annual salary and will be pro-rated for part-time staff.

For part-time staff the deductions are calculated on a pro-rata basis determined by normal working patterns. Part-time staff are asked to confirm on the strike notification form the number of hours they would have been working on each day of strike action. For example, if a part-time employee works two and a half days a week (which coincided with strike days) they would be deducted two full days and a half days pay, on the same 365-day basis as full-time staff.

When will pay deductions for strike action be made?

Following agreement with UCU representatives, we will spread deductions over two months as follows:

  • strike action taken in the first four days (25-28 November 2019 inclusive) will be deducted in January 2020
  • strike action taken in the second four days (29 November to 4 December 2019 inclusive) will be deducted in February 2020.

To enable this, UCU have agreed to ask members to submit strike notification forms within one week of strike action ending. Therefore, the form will need to be received in HR by 11 December 2019.

What will be the impact on my pension where pay deductions are applied?

The default position will be that the University will pay the employer’s contribution as though you have worked on each strike day and will deduct any employee’s contributions you would normally pay (including any additional contributions), based on the full notional pensionable pay you would have earned had you not taken industrial action. This will mean USS membership will not be affected during the strike period.

If you do not want your normal USS pension contributions to be deducted, you must indicate this on your strike notification form. Please note that in this situation you will not accrue pension benefits for that period.

We can confirm however that for the period of the currently stated strike days, USS has put in place arrangements for death in service and ill health cover to remain in place where full contributions are not maintained.

What happens to pay deductions?

Deductions will be retained in affected academic departments to enable them to put in place measures to mitigate the impact on student learning opportunities and objectives.

Head of Departments will be asked to report on action they have taken and will be asked to track expenditure.

Pay deducted from staff in Professional Services departments will be collated centrally. Some of this funding will be directed to the student hardship fund, and any student who has incurred out of pocket expenses as a result of the action will be eligible to seek reimbursement from those funds. The remainder will be made available to ensure additional student support activities can be provided where needed.

I’m an international member of staff, will taking strike action have an impact on my Tier 2 visa sponsorship?

The government confirmed in July 2018 that Tier 2 visa holders will not be penalised for some absences from paid work in the UK, which now include engaging in legal strike action. These changes mean that a Tier 2 visa holder's leave to remain will not be affected if such absences cause their salary to fall below the required threshold.

Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTA) and casual workers:

I am a GTA/casual worker and I want to take part in the strike action. What will be the impact on my pay?

Casual workers and GTAs who plan on withdrawing their labour in support of the industrial action will not be paid for any work missed on those days.

GTAs and casual workers who participate in the industrial action do not need to complete a notification form and should simply not claim hours that they had planned/been scheduled to work.

I am a GTA/casual worker and I can’t do my work as someone I was supporting has not turned up due to strike action, what happens to my pay?

You will be paid for the hours you were due to work on that day. You will need to inform your departmental contact who will process the hours for payroll as per the normal process.

You may be asked instead to undertake alternative, grade appropriate tasks for which you are suitably skilled and/or trained to undertake.

During industrial action:

What is a picket line? Can I cross it?

During strike action it is possible that picket lines of striking staff might be present around the University campus outside various buildings. Picketing is a lawful activity where staff who support the strike stand outside to inform other staff members why they are striking. Picketing should be undertaken peacefully and it should not prevent those who are not striking to go to work or continue doing their usual work.

We do not anticipate any problem arising as a result of any pickets that may form during industrial action and have spoken to both UCU and the Students’ Union about ensuring that pickets comply with the UCU guidance.

Should you, any of your team or students have any concerns with pickets outside your place of work. please email industrial.action@sheffield.ac.uk or contact your HR team.

If you feel intimidated in any way or witness any behaviour you find concerning which requires a more immediate response, please telephone Security Services on 0114 2224085 to raise your concerns or 0114 2224444 for an emergency response.

If you feel that you have been the target of harassment or bullying during the strikes then you can use our Report + Support platform to make a confidential disclosure or a formal report.

More information regarding picketing can be found here.

I’m concerned about the action and it’s affecting my wellbeing. What support is available to me?

You can contact our staff helpline and counselling service which will give you immediate access to practical help, information and advice to support and address any concerns you may have. The service is independent and confidential and available 24 hours per day. For more information click here.

Visit our dedicated staff mental health and wellbeing pages which provide advice, guidance and signposts to available services, information and activities.

You can also talk to your customary HR team, contact details can be found here.

Can I work from home or take annual leave during industrial action?

We wish to ensure that there is adequate cover during periods of industrial action so that we can maintain services as much as possible, provide adequate support for students and reduce any possible impacts on learning and education. Therefore, requests to work from home or to take annual leave might not be agreed during periods of industrial action unless it follows your normal working pattern or in exceptional circumstances.

We acknowledge that there will be circumstances where such requests can, and should, be agreed, and this is not intended to be a blanket ban on people taking time off or working flexibly. Please speak to your manager to determine what will be possible.

Note: If agreements were made before the University received the notification of strike action from the trade unions we expect these agreements to be honoured.

What work should I prioritise during industrial action?

Our aim during the industrial action is to minimise the impact on students. For this reason, we ask all staff to prioritise, where possible, student-facing activities. Your head of department or manager will be able to advise as appropriate.

I am not taking part in the strike action and have been asked by my manager to cover for a colleague who is on strike, is this ok?

You should only ever be asked to undertake any additional duties which are grade appropriate, and for which you are suitably skilled and/or trained. There may be situations where your manager seeks a level of flexibility in terms of covering duties which fall outside of your normal role, but still fall within the parameters outlined. If you or your manager are unsure what may be deemed reasonable, please seek HR support.

Health and safety during the industrial action:

Should my staff work on their own,ie carry out lone working?

This depends on the nature of the work being carried out and the medical condition of the individual carrying it out. If the work carries medium or high risk, for example working with hazardous materials or inherently dangerous machinery, then this is probably not a sensible idea. However, if the work is inherently low risk, for example DSE-based, then there is no real reason why this shouldn’t go ahead.

If the potential lone worker has declared a known medical condition which could realistically pose a significant risk to them, then lone working is probably not an option to be considered. Temporarily working in another area with colleagues may be an option.

During periods of industrial action, do health and safety responsibilities for an area change?

No, health and safety responsibilities always flow through the management chain – this does not change. If a manager or supervisor is unavailable due to industrial action, or any other reason, then the tier of management above must decide if that particular activity can safely continue.

There is no PI available to supervise a lab/workshop, can it run unsupervised?

This is exactly the same situation as if the PI were off ill or working away from the University. The head of department should be made aware there is an absence and then can arrange alternative cover. If no alternative cover is available the head of department can temporarily halt that particular activity if they feels that is necessary.

Our local first aid responder is not available, can we continue to work?

Yes, you can continue to work, but all staff should be made aware that if a first aider is required they should go straight through to Security Control on 0114 222 4085 – all Security staff are full First Aid at Work certificate holders.