Industrial action ballots

UCU and UNISON have opened ballots of their membership seeking a mandate for industrial action over the national pay negotiations and USS pension scheme (the scheme for staff on grades 6 and above). We have not yet received notification from Unite but have been informed that they also expect to ballot their members over the national pay negotiations.

Below you will find further information on some of the main issues and how we are working together with colleagues and trade unions to address them. 

USS

This is a particularly complex matter which has been a cause of concern for the University and our staff for some time.
The latest position is that benefits in USS will remain unchanged. The USS Trustee has determined through its latest scheme valuation that there is a deficit of £3.6 billion in the scheme. The USS Trustee has stated that the cost of maintaining the current benefits and addressing the reported deficit will be 30.7% of salaries in total from October 2019 to October 2021, and 34.7% thereafter.

For members of USS the cost of membership will increase from the current 8.8% to 9.6% of salaries (a 0.8% increase) from October 2019. The University’s contributions will increase from 19.5% to 21.1% (a 1.6% increase, or around £3 million per year).

The way increases (or decreases) in the contribution rate is shared between employers and members is a matter for the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) which comprises equal numbers of UUK and UCU representatives and an independent Chair. The default position in the scheme rules is a 65:35 split of any increase (or decrease) in contributions between employers and members respectively if no alternative decision can be reached at JNC.

Through UUK the employers made an offer to fund an additional 0.5% of contributions for a two year period, making the member contributions 9.1% from October 2019 (the same as the level that was indicated as appropriate to maintain the current benefits by the Joint Expert Panel (JEP) in its first report in 2018) in return for UCU calling off its ballot of members. UCU declined this offer and holds the position that members’ contributions should revert to the level they were before the 2017 valuation, at 8%. As a result of the two sides not being able to reach an agreement the independent Chair of the JNC used his casting vote and sided with the employers in the interests of avoiding the higher increases that would have come into force under the previous valuation from October 2019.

We have been working closely with trade union (primarily UCU) and academic colleagues over the past two years to understand the position and challenges relating to USS more fully.

Collectively we have been responding to the various consultations and ensuring the voice of the University is heard. We continue to have concerns around the way the USS Trustee undertakes the valuation process which is at the heart of determining the overall health of the scheme and therefore the cost of providing benefits on an ongoing basis. We continue to hope that the next report from the JEP, which is due out this autumn, will help inform future valuation and governance arrangements for USS. The JEP was convened jointly by UCU and UUK (on behalf of employers) as a means to suspend the last USS strikes in 2018 and with a remit to consider ways to resolve some of the underlying issues in USS. Its first report was wholly accepted by both UCU and employers (including the University of Sheffield), however unfortunately the USS Trustee has not implemented all of its recommendations to date.

Details of the University’s USS Valuation Working Group along with all of our outputs can be found at https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/hr/thedeal/pensionupdates/ussvaluation.

We will be holding a number of open sessions across campus on the USS issue over the coming weeks. Details will be published shortly.

National Pay Negotiations

The Universities & Colleges Employers’ Association (UCEA) negotiates with the five recognised HE trade unions (UCU, UNISON, Unite, GMB, EIS) at a national level on pay. Our University has participated in these national negotiations for many years and we know our local trade unions support the national pay negotiation process.

This year UCEA made a final offer of a 1.8% increase on all points on the national pay spine, with additional increases for points 2 to 16 (for us, grades 1-4). The offer also included the removal of point 2 on the pay spine. We have implemented this final offer on the advice of UCEA and have agreed to the removal of point 2, and the consequent change in the grade boundaries for our grades 1 and 2. This will result in around 400 of our staff on grades 1 and 2 seeing an increase of around 5.5% in their pay, effective 1 August 2019. Staff should see the impact of this in the September payroll, with backdated payments to August.

The joint trade union claim sought a headline increase of RPI inflation plus 3% or £3,349 whichever was greater, along with a range of non-pay issues relating to the gender pay gap, workloads and precarious working arrangements.

Locally we continue to work constructively with our trade union colleagues on a range of employment issues aimed at improving the experience of all those who work at the University, and have specifically been jointly tackling the issues in the joint trade union claim.

For more information on National Pay Negotiations please see the recent update.

Gender and race equality

We are committed to creating gender balance across the workforce and have successfully taken actions to reduce our gender pay gap. In 2017, we formed a working group that includes trade union colleagues to jointly and proactively work to understand the causes of our gender pay gap, and agree actions to decrease it. We are in the process of agreeing a new action plan to reduce our gender pay gap at a greater pace.

We are also committed to integrating ethnicity pay gap reporting into our gender pay gap reporting, in line with the ‘Caught at the Crossroads report?’, and ahead of the expected legislative requirement to do so. We have amended the terms of reference of our local joint working group to consider ethnicity data: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/hr/equality/gpg/index

Our approach to working in partnership with trade union colleagues in this area has been highlighted as an example of good practice in the New JNCHES Equal Pay Reviews and Gender Pay Gap Reporting.

In addition, we have set ourselves ambitious targets as part of our new Race Equality Strategy and Action Plan, which aims to tackle issues of under-representation, progression and attainment of Black, Asian and Other Minority Ethnic (BAME) colleagues. The Race Equality Strategy and Action Plan, which will be reported to the Equality Diversity & Inclusion Committee via the University Race Equality Steering Group, contains specific actions to increase the percentage of BAME senior and professorial staff, and professional services staff, and to continue working with recruiting managers to proactively develop interventions to improve the diversity of the talent pool.

Wellbeing & workloads

As part of our work to improve staff wellbeing, we have established a Stress Risk Management Working Group. The group includes colleagues from Human Resources, Health and Safety and trade unions, who are working collaboratively to ensure that we are able to identify and mitigate stress at the earliest opportunity.

The group has developed a Departmental Stress Risk Assessment and Action Plan template with accompanying guidance, and a number of departments have been invited to participate in stress and resilience training, which is being piloted over the next six months via Health and Safety.

We have also established an academic workload group, chaired by Professor Craig Watkins, Vice President and Head of the Faculty of Social Sciences, involving trade union colleagues and academics. The working group aims to establish how the University can better support academic staff to deliver excellent research, teaching and leadership without a detrimental impact on their wellbeing due to workloads.

We recognise the importance of creating a positive environment where colleagues are supported and feel able to talk openly and with trust about mental health problems and seek help if necessary.

A number of colleagues have completed the Mental Health First Aid training, with priority given to those in student-facing roles and to those who regularly encounter people in distress. We also held an Introduction to Mental Health session for staff delivered by Sheffield Mind during Mental Health Awareness Week in May 2019, and further activity is planned for World Mental Health Day in October 2019. We hope to develop an in-house group of Mental Health First Aid instructors who will be able to deliver further training in a variety of formats to suit different needs. You can read about all the support we offer at: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/hr/wellbeing/mentalhealth

Casual working

Over the past year, following discussions with University and College Union (UCU) colleagues, we have confirmed our commitment to ensure all regular scheduled teaching is undertaken by staff on employment and not casual contracts.

We continue to monitor external funding streams and look to see where we can transfer fixed-term contracts to open-ended contracts where there is some certainty the funding is likely to continue.

Following feedback from several departments we will be creating a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) employment contract at Grade 7. This is to recognise the type of work some departments have told us they need postgraduate research students to carry out and will be available for departments to use from September 2019. This builds on the constructive work we have previously undertaken with our UCU colleagues to agree the employment status and terms of employment for our PGRs who undertake teaching alongside their studies.