What we’ve been up to while our front door has had to be shut

We’ve hugely missed the usual buzz of library activity since we closed our doors on 18 March.  But the staff have worked throughout, and here’s a flavour of what we’ve been up to…

We were thrilled to get money from the Arts Council emergency fund pot for a podcast project, Begin the World Over Again.  Working with Salford outdoor arts organisation Walk the Plank we have commissioned six artists, each with a member of the Bones of Paine writing group, to make a podcast episode about significant aspects of the Library’s collection and the thinking behind them, exploring parallels with our contemporary situation and what the future might look like. We’ve learned a lot about podcasting, and about social media, along the way, and the results have been terrific, hope you agree – you can listen to the podcasts here, and browse more about the themes and the project in general here.

We have also been delighted to present 26 free live-streamed talks so far since lockdown, on a really wide range of topics.   Attendance has been higher than our ‘traditional’ annexe audiences, and of course with a wider geographical spread (plus good figures for later views on YouTube).  It’s also easier to invite long-distance speakers, such as Maria Bloshteyn  who tuned in from Toronto to talk about Russian poetry from the Great Patriotic War.  We have also received kind donations from people who have enjoyed the talks.   The talks will start up again in February 2021 and you can find out more by keeping an eye on  – or by signing up to our free weekly ebulletin here, if you don’t get it already.

Over 200 people watched the third annual Engels Memorial Lecture, which we co-hosted with Marx Memorial Library last month, and this is also available now to watch on YouTube here.  You can also relive on YouTube our online fundraiser Radical Sounds – many folk joined us from the comfort of their living rooms on August Bank Holiday Monday for a fantastic mixture of music and readings, curated by our very own Maxine Peake.


We have selected and digitised some interesting material from:

* The Pan-African Congress in Manchester in 1945. This was used not only on our own social media but also was blown up large (see picture, left) to feature in the windows of the old Chorlton-on-Medlock Town Hall, now an MMU building and where the Congress took place.

* The Communist Party, which was presented online as part of the CP centenary celebration on 1 August.

* The Manchester and Salford Film Society (the oldest film society in the UK, whose archive we hold) to mark its 90th anniversary in November (, and

* The pages of our quirky Engels in Manchester scrapbook to mark Engels’s 200th birthday (

We have lent our Lancashire Women Against Pit Closures banner to the Museum of Wigan Life, along with two suffragette badges, for their protest exhibition which is due to run for a year. The banner looks terrific as it is hung so that both sides can be viewed.

So far, so virtual…  We were excited to be able to reopen the library to a maximum of two real life readers per day on 16 September, and until we had to close again on 4 November we were ‘full’ nearly every day.  A lot of effort was required to get just two people into the building, but all were very appreciative to be back. We are planning to re-reopen on Tuesday 5 January, again to two readers per day by prior appointment, so do get in touch if you’d like to book a place…

In the meantime take care, in solidarity, all the very best for the festive season and for 2021 from all at WCML


Staff at Sheffield Hallam University’s Students’ Union are fearful for their jobs, following the start of formal consultation this week on proposals to restructure the organisation and slash staff numbers.   40% of Students’ Union staff have been formally placed “at risk”.

Management claim that the proposals are necessary to increase student engagement, prioritise representation, and decrease operating costs.   Staff in the Union’s commercial operations, helpdesk and marketing teams are hardest hit under proposals which would see an expansion in the use of placement students on zero-hours contracts.  But UNISON members at the Union point to years to underinvestment by Sheffield Hallam University, the impact of COVID-19 on commercial activities, and longstanding staff dissatisfaction with the leadership and direction of the Students Union.

The proposals could not come at a worse time for staff already feeling demoralised but working extremely hard for students during the COVID-19 pandemic.   UNISON opposes compulsory redundancies and is working with members on alternative proposals to defend jobs.


The Branch was saddened to learn of the tragic death from COVID-19 of one of our members who worked in the Facilities Management team.   On behalf everyone in UNISON, the Branch Committee sends our deepest condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.   Our thoughts are with you.

We understand that support has been provided to affected colleagues, but it may be helpful to remind everyone of the confidential helplines and other advice provided through the University’s Employee Assistance Scheme:


Last week you will all hopefully have received through the post a ballot paper for you to vote in OUR union’s General Secretary elections.

In a member-led union, UNISON encourages you to be heard and to have a say in who you think should be our next General Secretary.

SHU UNISON have nominated Paul Holmes for General Secretary because:

  • Members of the Branch know him through his regional work in South Yorkshire:
  • Paul has the best record of leadership and fighting for members.
  • Paul is the members’ candidate, from the shop floor.
  • Paul will take the job on his current wage of £32,000, declining the £138,000 available.
  • Paul will massively increase funding to branches so we can support you better.
  • Paul has a track-record of winning disputes and elections, other candidates do not.
  • Paul’s leadership will be inclusive, developing talents from across our whole union and involving retired members.
  • Paul is popular across UNISON and can win.

The Ballot will run from 28th October until 27th November 2020.

The ballot is postal-only. Make sure you vote!


This year our employers offered a 0% pay freeze to all staff in Higher Education. This isn’t just a freeze; it is a pay cut: bills will increase this year, but our wages will not.  

UNISON and other Higher Education trade unions are unwilling to accept this “offer” and so you will be contacted in the coming weeks to consult as to whether you accept or reject the offer and would support sustained industrial action to push the employer to make a better offer.  

If UNISON has your email address, you’ll be sent an email when the consultation opens.

Please check we have the right contact details for you at MyUNISON before 16th November 2020.

National Pay Bargaining in Other Sectors

To put into perspective what this means for members working in Higher Education, employees included in 262 national pay bargaining deals this year are getting a better pay rise than us. Just 42 are seeing a pay freeze. Below are figures relating to pay offers this year being offered in other sectors:

In the public sector:

  • Council workers are all getting pay rises at different rates, which varies from around 2% (with more for the lowest paid). For example:
  • Northampton Council staff – 4% offered with 6.2% for the lowest paid.
  • Scottish Public Sector staff – 3% offered, with 4.1% for the lowest paid.
  • 8.4% for the lowest paid at the Department for Education.
  • Sport England staff –  2% offered.
  • Police Service staff – 2.5% offered.
  • Department for Work and Pensions staff – 2.5% offered.
  • Dental staff – 2.8% offered.

In the private sector:

  • Home Bargains staff – 15% offered over 2 years.
  • Tata Steel staff – 6.5% offered.
  • G4S staff – 6% offered.

Consultation on the Pay Offer

We believe all staff in Higher Education deserve a pay rise this year, especially when we consider all the hard work that staff have put in to keep the University running, from security staff working throughout the lockdown period, maintenance staff ensuring the campus is maintained to a high standard, admin and support staff ensuring that students are receiving enough support during this time and are able to register to their programmes, academic staff moving to online teaching and many more.  We all deserve more than a pay cut.

Consultation of members starts on 3rd November and ends on 30th November

For more information go to: UNISON Higher Education Campaign Page


Are you suffering financially as a result of coronavirus?

From 16 November, you can apply to our COVID-19 response fund for a grant to help you during this difficult time. We have received generous grants from CHSA and UNISON which enable us to support members who are struggling.  

See the financial assistance section for information.

Online applications will open on 16 November and can be accessed here – make a date in your diary to apply, as we expect this limited fund to be in high demand.

Read the full article here.


As you may know already, Dave Prentis is retiring as UNISON general secretary at the end of the year, and an election is currently underway.

The prospective list of candidates for election as General Secretary are: Paul Holmes, Christina McAnea, Roger McKenzie, Hugo Pierre and Peter Sharma.

To get on the ballot, candidates must be nominated by at least 25 of UNISON’s 834 local branches who are participating in the election.

Our branch agreed at the branch committee on 9th September to hold a nomination meeting, which was scheduled for 16th September.

Seven members of the branch committee attended the meeting, and only one nomination (for Paul Holmes) was made. A vote was then held on whether our branch would nominate Paul Holmes as a candidate, the results were as follows:

For: 5

Against: 1

Absentions: 1

The nominations process is now closed, and the general ballot of UNISON members will now run from October 28th to November 27th, with the result being announced on January 11th. 


This is the first in a series of ‘explainer’ articles in the newsletter, to help you understand issues and policies in our workplace. First off, we’ll look at the mysterious and sometimes confusing world of local government pensions! 

What is LGPS? 

The Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) consists of 101 regional pension funds, which administer pensions for millions of local government workers.  

We pay our contributions into the South Yorkshire Pensions Authority (SYPA) fund, who are based up the road in Barnsley. 

As a public post-92 university, all non-academic staff at SHU are by law enrolled in LGPS when we start our employment. However, you can opt out, or leave the scheme at any time. 

How much do we pay in, and how much does SHU contribute?

Each year, 1/49th of your pensionable pay is added to your annual pension entitlement.

To pay for this you will contribute about 6-7% of your salary each month into your pension. SHU will make another contribution that amounts to around 14-15% of your salary.

Where does all my pension money go?

Your money is paid to SYPA.  They administer and invest the money on the scheme members’ behalf. On their website you can access your account online, view your pension statement, and get a projection of your retirement income (based on your current pension savings). 

LGPS is a funded pension scheme, which means that your contributions are invested rather than simply being left in an account. Broadly the funds will be invested in: government bonds, property, and the stock market. 

This contrasts with the Teachers Pension Scheme (TPS), which is offered to SHU employees on academic contracts. TPS is an unfunded scheme – the contributions are not invested but are merely paid to the government, who then pay out the pension benefits from general taxation.

When can I retire and when do I get the money? 

You will be able to access your full pension entitlement at your retirement age – which is the age at which you can access your state pension. This pension age checker on the site can give you more details.

You can take ‘early retirement’ and access your pension pot from the age of 55.  Your entitlement will be reduced accordingly, as you will not have made the full contributions up to your retirement age. You would also be required to resign your roles at SHU.

If you are 55 or over and made redundant by SHU (either compulsory or voluntary), you will be entitled to take early retirement. In this instance SHU must pay a very significant contribution to cover the payments due up to your retirement age, and you will retire on a full pension. 

There is also a ‘flexible retirement’ option for those who don’t want to fully retire.

Finally, if you are unable to continue working on medical grounds you may also be able to receive ill health early retirement. However, you must supply sufficient evidence to the fund to prove that you can no longer work.

Follow this link for a good summary of retirement options for LGPS members

Do I get taxed on my pension? 

Pensions are deferred pay, so income tax will be applied when you’re receiving your pension. However, you do also receive some tax relief on your pension contributions. 

If your pension contributions are very high and the sum of your pension pots goes over the ‘lifetime’ pensions tax allowance (currently £1.073 million), then additional taxes will be applied. Luckily, this is unlikely to affect most of us! 

Is LGPS a defined benefit scheme, and what does that mean? 

Yes. LGPS is a defined benefit scheme. This means that you will be guaranteed a fixed sum for each year of your retirement, based on your total contributions when you retire. For LGPS members your yearly amount will also increase with the cost of living. 

A defined contribution scheme does not guarantee your income in the same way. Instead, the value of your pension pot goes up and down with the stock market, and when you retire, you’ll be given a statement each year giving your income for the next 12 months. 

Defined contribution schemes are cheaper for the employer and carry less risk for them. They are not as good for the employee, who must take on more risk. 

What if I can’t afford to pay the pension contributions? 

You can leave the scheme at any time, although if you do this your employer contributions from SHU will also be stopped.

LGPS also offers a 50:50 scheme, where the contributions by the employee and employer are reduced by 50%. This is more affordable but means that your pension pot builds up more slowly. 

SHU has also launched a pension scheme (NEST) for staff members who cannot afford the contributions for LGPS, or who want to pay into a more flexible scheme. This is a defined contribution scheme. 

Our branch cannot give individual financial advice, but overall, we believe that the LGPS scheme offers the best value to our members.  

What’s the future outlook for local government pension schemes?

Most post-92 universities must continue to offer LGPS pension schemes to their directly employed support staff, and at present the SYPA scheme is well funded.  

Some regional LGPS funds do have funding gaps, although many argue that this is the result of the way the fund valuations are carried out. 

Many universities do not like defined benefit pension schemes, and if given the choice would prefer to stop paying into them. Some universities, such as Staffordshire and South Wales, have gone to extreme lengths to avoid offering LGPS schemes to their support staff.  

In addition to this, a report by the government in May 2019 proposed that the law should be changed to allow universities and further education colleges to opt out of local government pension schemes. We wrote about this report at the time, and we’re still awaiting a full response to the consultation from the government.  

If the worst-case scenario happens, we expect to see some universities preventing new support staff from entering the LGPS scheme. This will not only be detrimental for those new staff members but will also reduce the amount of contributions coming into the scheme, affecting the benefits paid to existing members. 

We will strongly oppose any attempt to change LGPS entitlements at SHU, should it be proposed in the future.

Finally, the economic effects of Covid-19 have significantly affected the valuations of funded pension schemes, although they are likely to recover in the future as the crisis eases. 

I have more questions, where can I go for answers? 

Firstly, the South Yorkshire Pensions Authority’s website should be helpful.

The Pensions Team at SHU will be able to support you with individual enquiries.

Unison has an excellent pensions knowledge base too.

Finally, you can contact us if you have any concerns about your pension.


Congratulations to our UNISON colleagues at The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, who have averted the threat of compulsory redundancies through collective action. 

Staff members at SOAS were threatened with up to 88 compulsory redundancies, as part of the school’s Transformation and Change restructuring project. 

The SOAS Unison branch balloted its members on taking industrial action. 74% of members voted for industrial action, with a 71% turnout. Strike action was scheduled for the 22nd and 23rd of September, with both virtual and physical pickets planned.

At our branch officers meeting on 16th September, a motion was passed to donate £200 to the SOAS branch’s strike fund, and for a message of support to be sent from our branch.

The planned strike action was called off on 18th September, when a new agreement was made between SOAS and the branch. In the new agreement, members facing redundancy will now be provided with an extended redeployment period, and will receive individualised support and development training to help them find alternative roles within SOAS. 

 “SOAS Branch activists celebrating victory”

“SOAS Branch activists celebrating victory”

Once again, congratulations to the SOAS branch for their victorious action. They have shown the power of a united and organised branch, using direct and timely action when required.