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.


Dave Prentis, our current General Secretary, has announced he is to retire on 31 December 2020. An election will be held to appoint a new general secretary.

The union’s National Executive Council at a meeting on 23 July 2020, agreed a timetable for the election: full details and procedures

Voting: Any ballot will run from 28 October to 27 November 2020. Any results will be issued on 11 January 2021.

Eligibility to vote: All members, including retired members (but not honorary members), who are on the union’s membership register as of 28 July 2020, will be entitled to vote in this election.

Members not on the membership register on 28 July 2020 will not be able to vote.


On 19th August, members of UNISON at the University of Sheffield celebrated after senior managers announced a dramatic U-turn by rescinding their threat to fire & rehire 8,000 members of staff.    

The move comes after seven weeks of campaigning from the trade union UNISON, who represent non-academic staff on campus. UNISON was angered by the issuing of a Section 188 notice for every member of staff that could have seen workers being dismissed and re-engaged on inferior contracts. This is a tactic which has recently been used by employers such as Centrica, Asda and British Airways.   

At the time of the announcement, local union officials described the proposals as: “Premature and strategically naive.” They pointed out that the University of Sheffield enjoys reserves of nearly £1billion and remains one of the most popular destinations to study amongst students.    

The university had entered into consultation with unions in July with a view to reducing contractual terms and conditions in an attempt to save £100 million. The proposals included voluntary redundancies, pay freezes, cancellation of promotions and a reduction in hours and salary. 

Despite the threat to ‘fire and rehire’, the University of Sheffield UNISON branch entered talks in good faith with a view to finding a resolution. They also ran a superb campaign, utilising support from local MPs, students and the community. Despite lockdown restrictions, they spoke to members regularly as record numbers joined the branch. As a result of the campaign run by UNISON, on Wednesday 19th August the University of Sheffield dropped the plans.   

Leonie Sharp, Regional Organiser at  UNISON said: “As the recession starts to take hold, we have seen a number of high profile employers use the threat of ‘fire and rehire’ in an attempt to reduce workers’ terms and conditions. This victory at the University of Sheffield shows what can be done when workers stick together and campaign for the outcome they want. 

“All credit needs to go to the small dedicated team of UNISON activists on campus. They have run an amazing campaign that will be seen as a victory by the whole trade union movement.” 

Statement regarding homeworking, flexible hours and caring responsibilities

The following statement/advice has been agreed by the Branch Committee, seriously concerned about the danger that members may be put under pressure to agree to unreasonable working hours alongside caring responsibilities.  If you are not able to work for any reason, this should of course be discussed with your line manager as usual. But contact the Branch as advised in the statement.

Heroes, not Superheroes

Earlier this week the Vice Chancellor wrote to all staff to commend the “commitment and professionalism” of colleagues, referring to the “whole regiments of unsung heroes who have kept working, often doing extra hours, to keep the University going and support rapidly changing operations.”

It is true that a great deal of work, much of it above and beyond normal expectations, has gone into keeping the University going in these difficult times.  The VC’s praise is well deserved.

But all this incredible collective effort must not be exploited.  There is a limit to what can reasonably be expected of us, and the Branch is determined that our Health and Safety rights and Terms and Conditions must not be compromised. We are heroes, not superheroes.

UNISON, alongside the other unions, has been pressing for recognition by the University that it is unrealistic to insist that staff conform to business-as-usual working patterns and rules during the current crisis. What is needed is pragmatism, flexibility, and sensitivity. Recent ACAS guidance emphasises the importance of this:  An outcome-oriented approach could be adopted, looking at carefully prioritising essential work and taking into account what can reasonably be expected in individual circumstances.

But last Thursday (19th March), the University published a daily email update, which included a section on “working from home with care commitments.”     It included this statement:

“We appreciate that our families and those we care for are our primary concern, and that this will be the focus of your attention whilst this situation lasts.  However, we would ask that you balance this with work requirements.  If you are unable to make alternative care arrangements to cover your normal work pattern, this may mean that during this period you need to undertake your work in a new or different way which supports these responsibilities. We wish to support you with this.

This could mean agreeing a new work pattern with your line manager where you undertake work in the early mornings, weekends or evenings.  Whatever your work pattern, once this is agreed with your line manager, you should keep in contact on a regular basis, either through WebEx or by telephone.  It is important that you and your line manager speak to each other at least weekly, and preferably more often.”

The Branch immediately received outraged protests from members, especially those furious at the prospect of being expected to work unsociable hours on top of acting as full time carers (of children and other dependents) due to the public health situation. It is not surprising that the statement caused anxiety and anger from colleagues in this position.  It is not acceptable to expect anyone to somehow squeeze a 37 hour week into weekends, early mornings and late nights, let alone those with additional, exhausting, responsibilities.

The idea that colleagues in this situation might be penalised by using up annual leave or losing pay is not acceptable.

This contrasts starkly with the Vice Chancellor’s instruction to “Look after your mental and physical well-being”.

Flexible working arrangements – yes.   A pragmatic and supportive approach – yes.   Putting people under pressure to work late nights, or at 2am in the morning, or at weekends – no.

UNISON Branch Committee met urgently on Friday and voted to reject and oppose the guidance.   We are advising members not to agree to any changes to their working conditions without seeking advice from the Branch.   We are calling on the University to provide clearer and more supportive and understanding guidance, and to withdraw and clarify the current advice.   We are urging the University to make facilitating safe homeworking its first priority, as this is the most significant problem.

UNISON Branch Committee