Be a workplace contact!

While the Branch encourages members to become active in the Branch as stewards (alternatively known as workplace representatives) and officers, representing members and helping to run the Union (and there are vacancies!), that’s not the only way to get involved.    

 From time to time we publicise free training events and conferences that members can attend, but there are also UNISON self-organised groups in which women, black members, disabled members, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members, young members and retired members can get involved (see: https://www.unison.org.uk/about/our-organisation/structure/member-groups/).

 But UNISON also has a role for “workplace contacts”.  

 Workplace contacts can play an important role in helping members organise, by being the eyes and ears of the Branch in a particular team or area, helping communicate the Branch’s messages and sharing information with their colleagues and other members, promoting the Union and supporting and encouraging people who want to join UNISON.  Where members need representation or advice, a workplace contact can refer them to the best source of help.   Unlike officers and stewards, workplace contacts are not elected.

 It’s a good way of getting to know UNISON (and the University) a bit better, and could be a starting point for someone thinking of getting more involved with the Union.    Either way, being a workplace contact could be a great learning opportunity.

 If you are interested in becoming a workplace contact, please let the Branch Secretary, Dan Bye, know.  Alternatively, speak to your local steward or another officer.

Student Loans: are you paying back the right amount?

Members who are paying back a student loan should check that the correct amounts are being deducted.  

 There is no indication that this is a widespread or systematic problem, but the possibility of error exists and could have significant financial consequences.   We have had some examples over the last year of members who have became aware that they were overpaying on their student loan, and so we thought it was useful to raise awareness of the issue.

 Refunds can be made where mistakes are made, but note that issues need raising with the Student Loan Company.   The University payroll team is instructed by HMRC (who get their information from SLC) of any changes to student loan repayment plans, and are not otherwise able to make any changes.

 First of all, check that you are liable to make repayments. There are tens of thousands of people who are known to have started repaying too early. Liability only starts in the April after you graduate or leave higher education. And you don’t need to repay unless your earnings have reached the necessary threshold in any tax year.   The current threshold for those who started University during or after 2012 (England/Wales) is £25,000.  It’s different in Scotland and Northern Ireland.   

 Secondly, check that repayments have been stopped or started as appropriate if your earnings dropped below the threshold in a month – although the earnings threshold is for a tax year, the calculation will be on a monthly basis.

 Thirdly, check that you are not still paying despite having paid off your loan.   Again, tens of thousands of people have ended up overpaying because of the way in which HMRC annually report earnings to the Student Loans Company – eventually this should be detected and notified to the affected individual, but let them know if you spot it yourself.

 Finally, check that you are paying according the correct repayment plan.  Plan 1 is for those who took out their loan before 1 September 2012.  Plan 2 is for those who took out their loan on or after that date.   Repayment rates are calculated differently for each plan, which is why it matters.

 If you want more information or need to check any details, see the Student Loans Company website:  http://www.studentloanrepayment.co.uk

 If you have overpaid and want to be refunded, call the Student Loan Company on 0300 100 0611.  You might need personal data such as national insurance number, payroll number and PAYE reference.

 Example of newspaper coverage of student loan overpayment, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/money/student-money/hmrc-blames-student-loans-company-mass-overpayments/

Dan J Bye

 

Voluntary Living Wage – a qualified welcome


The National Minimum Wage became law in 1998, taking effect the following year.  It introduced different minimum hourly rates according to age bands. In 2015, George Osborne announced that for over-25s, the minimum wage would be renamed the National Living Wage and increased significantly.  This was primarily a way of outflanking the Labour Party, which had proposed a lower rise in the minimum wage.   The change was introduced from 2016.

 Confusingly, a voluntary “living wage” has been in existence since 2011, arising from campaigning going back to the early 2000s.   The Living Wage Foundation sets the level of the voluntary – or as we prefer to call it, Real Living Wage based on the cost of living.  The aim is to provide a worker with the minimum pay rate required to provide their family with the essentials of life, which the statutory so-called National Living Wage does not do.    Employers signing up to the Voluntary Living Wage undertake to maintain the pay of their lowest paid staff at the independently set level, and are recognised for doing so.

 Here at Sheffield Hallam, UNISON first raised the Real Living Wage issue back in 2012.  We therefore welcomed the University’s decision to pay the Voluntary Living Wage to our lowest paid colleagues from August.  

 This takes the form of a Voluntary Living Wage Supplement, paid to staff on Grade 2 (we do not use Grade 1 here) and the first spinal point of Grade 3 whose hourly rate would otherwise fall below that rate.  There are over 100 people impacted by this move.

 The Voluntary Living Wage was adjusted to £9 per hour in November, and affected staff should see that reflected in their pay packets soon.  

 Our welcome for this move is a qualified one, however, because the University has decided not to become an accredited Voluntary Living Wage employer.  Also, the method chosen to pay the Real Living Wage – a supplement on top of basic pay – flattens out the pay levels for staff on Grade 2.  Nor does the supplement apply to contract staff and casual staff who are not counted as employees, although it does apply to placement students and apprentices.

 Nevertheless, the move is a genuinely progressive move that benefits a large number of workers, and we hope that it will be maintained in the years to come.

Pensions news

 

Colleagues will be aware of the strike action taken earlier in the year by UCU (the academics’ trade union), in defence of the USS pension scheme.  More information about that can be found here: https://www.ucu.org.uk/strikeforuss.   The USS scheme is mainly found among pre-1992 Universities, where professional services staff may also be scheme members.  Here at SHU, most professional services staff will be in the Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS), and the vast majority of teaching staff will be in the Teachers Pension Scheme (TPS).

The TPS is not just a higher education scheme, it is the default scheme for teachers in state-funded schools as well as many FE colleges.    And unlike the LGPS, which is a “funded scheme” (this means that employer and employee make contributions to a fund which is then invested), the TPS is an “unfunded” scheme paid out of general taxation.

In October, the Treasury published information about the actuarial valuation of the scheme and announced that employer contributions would rise from 16.48% to over 23% – about a 40% increase in costs.   Employee contributions are linked to pay rates, but the average employee contribution is 9.6%.

Apparently schools will receive some help with these additional costs, at least (but only) for the first year.   But there is no such help for Universities, leaving higher education employers facing an unexpected and unwelcome and very significant hike in staff costs.

USS Members in Pre-92 Universities

Meanwhile USS members have now been told that their scheme is in a better position than previously thought. The ‘Joint Expert Panel’ convened earlier this year at the end of the dispute found shortcomings in the 2017 valuation that led to the aborted attempt to move to Defined Contribution. This was exactly as many UCU activists suspected all along, and they have been thoroughly vindicated in their decision to strike. Following the re-valuation, universities have now indicated their support for accepting ‘greater risk’ within the scheme (i.e. valuation rules less likely to favour their agenda), and employer contributions will only have to rise by a small amount to safeguard members’ benefits.

So we are now in the exact opposite position as we found ourselves in at the beginning of the year, where USS members were preparing to walk out, and looking longingly at their pre-1992 academic colleagues’ “safe” pensions.

Meanwhile, attacks on the pensions of professional services staff are becoming more common across the sector.

LGPS and University Pension Schemes

At Southampton University a proposal to close the final-salary PASNAS scheme and replace it with a defined contribution scheme was withdrawn as a result of collective action, meaning that existing scheme members retained final-salary benefits, but the scheme was closed to new members.

At the University of Manchester, a consultation on the future of the University of Manchester Superannuation Scheme (UMSS) was launched over the summer, on the back of an actuarial valuation which said the scheme was in deficit to the tune of  £207m. About 4000 support staff are members of the defined benefit scheme, which currently has a final salary section and a career average revalued earnings (CARE) section.   The proposed changes would close the scheme to new starters, who would join a new defined contribution scheme instead, and move existing scheme members from a final salary scheme (which would close) to an inferior career average scheme (which would replace the existing CARE section).  In a consultative ballot, 89% of UNISON members who voted indicated support for industrial action in opposition to the changes.

The Ongoing Dispute at Staffordshire University

Finally, in May this year Staffordshire University management informed the local UNISON branch of their intention to transfer their administrative staff (grades 1-6) from the Local Government Pension Scheme to an inferior private scheme.  To achieve this goal they took the step of transferring administrative staff out of direct employment and into a Wholly Owned Subsidiary (Staffordshire University Services Limited).

One month of consultation was given to staff to voice their views on the proposed changes. The branch were informed of the proposals very shortly before the consultation began. Following the close of the consultation period the changes went ahead as planned.

These changes will leave many low-paid staff in ‘pension poverty’, and disproportionately affect low-paid female workers. It has been calculated that some staff may lose up to £10,000 per year in their retirement.

Staffordshire University UNISON branch comments that: “This is a targeted and unfair attack on the future of the lowest paid members of staff leading to uncertain retirement, a retirement the workers have planned and paid for.”

In response our colleagues at Staffordshire have taken 5 days of staggered industrial action between August and October. So far, Staffordshire University management have refused to return to talks. More industrial action is planned.

We will be raising a motion in support of our colleagues at Staffordshire at our next Branch Committee, which includes a proposal to make a donation to their hardship fund. This will go towards supporting low-paid members in the next round of action.

We also strongly encourage members to contribute to the hardship fund. The Staffordshire Branch’s bank details are given below:

Bank Name: Unity Bank

Sort Code: 608301

Account Number: 20024820

 

Article by Rich Nind & Dan Bye

 

UNISON Welfare Charity – There For You

‘There for You’ is a UNISON welfare charity that can assist members with :

  • Financial Assistance
  • Debt Advice
  • Wellbeing Breaks
  • Support and Information

If you or your dependents are experiencing financial and/or emotional difficulties the charity can provide confidential advice and support.

If you would like more information, please use the link below:
https://www.unison.org.uk/get-help/services-support/there-for-you/

NATIONAL UNITY DEMONSTRATION AGAINST FASCISM AND RACISM SATURDAY 17 NOVEMBER

We are seeing the biggest rise in support for fascism, the far right, racism, Islamophobia and Antisemitism since the 1930s.

Hate crime has spiked to unprecedented levels. Whilst fascists and racists are mobilising on a scale not seen for decades, the far-right movements are gaining power across the globe.

The election of Jair Bolsonaro marks an extremely serious point in the rise of the global far right. It came a day after the shocking antisemitic attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue, Pittsburgh, in which 11 people were killed.

The majority of society opposes fascism and racism, but we can only defeat it if we come together and take action.

The 17th November is our chance to show that in our thousands and millions we are proud of our diversity, and we stand united in our determination to drive back this toxic wave of hate.

The demonstration is initiated by Stand Up To Racism, co-sponsored by Unite Against Fascism and Love Music Hate Racism, officially backed by the TUC and Unite, whilst also supported by Diane Abbott MP, John McDonnell MP amongst others.

Our Branch has agreed to pay the cost for 5 tickets for members who wish to attend the demo – this is on a first come first served basis.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Higher Education Pay Offer 2018/19

What’s the issue?

As you may have seen in recent updates, Unison has been in discussion with other Higher Education unions about the employers’ pay offer for 2018/19. Here’s what the unions asked for and what was offered by employers:

 

Joint unions’ pay claim: Employers’ pay offer:
7.5% or £1,500 + a minimum wage of £10 per hour

 

2% or £425 (full time) whichever is higher

 

 

Due to the employers’ offer being significantly less than what was requested by all unions, Unison’s Higher Education Service Group Executive (HESGE) are recommending that members reject the employers’ offer.

How does this affect you?

  • The offer made by employers amounts to a real terms pay cut, inflation is higher than the 2% proposal
  • We have had several years of below inflation pay rises and yet living costs continue to rise, this offer does not address this
  • In the current climate, we are facing staff cuts in several areas of the University, which means we are facing an increase in workload without a meaningful pay increase

What happens next?

The Sheffield Hallam University Unison Branch will be running a consultative ballot which will be open for 3 weeks from Monday 9th July – Monday 30th July. This isn’t a ballot for industrial action; it is your chance to tell the branch what you think about the pay offer.

The more members that vote, the more accurately we can represent the views of this branch, so please look out for further details and do take part.

 

 

 

 

 

UNISON PSOM Motion- 24 April 2018

The Branch welcomes the decision to delay the PSOM consultation briefings.

The Branch expects that:

● The delay will not lead to any reduction in the time available for consultation

● That the revised timeline will be realistic and achievable

● That the information available to Unions and affected staff for this and all future phases will be accurate and complete

The Branch notes concerns which have been raised by members in some affected areas following the circulation of the Background Information document, in particular:

● That various statements have been made which are felt to be at odds with evidence or feedback submitted, causing concern as to the validity of the proposals.

● The potential negative effect on the student experience in September of the current frontline proposals.

● The apparent lack of involvement of staff at all levels in some areas has led to a lack of confidence that the proposals are fit for purpose.

● That the University is rushing to make radical changes to service provision on an overambitious timescale, putting both student experience and staff at risk without the confidence that these changes will be successful.

The Branch expects that:

● The project team ensures its proposals are evidence-based and clearly explained in the consultation document.

● That staff are given adequate time to read documents in order to be able to respond effectively.

● The consultation is meaningful and genuine and that the response to feedback is comprehensive and reflects openness to changes to the proposals.

● The consultation will involve both affected staff and professional services stakeholders

The Branch is seriously concerned about the likelihood of large numbers of job losses, and reiterates our opposition to compulsory redundancies. We expect the University to work to avoid redundancies, in line with the Change Principles.

Proposed: Dan J Bye

Seconded: Lucinda Wakefield