Petition launches to get COVID tests for all education staff

Petition launches to get COVID tests for all education staff

UNISON has launched an emergency petition calling on Matt Hancock for all education workers to be included as one of the groups named for priority COVID-19 testing.

It takes a whole team to keep schools, nurseries, colleges and universities running, but when the health secretary announced the list of workers that will be eligible for priority testing in England, in education, only ‘teaching staff’ were mentioned.

This completely ignores the fact that over half of the staff in education aren’t teachers.

Please sign – and share – the petition


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.


More than 4,000 UNISON members completed the annual higher education survey, which exposed concerns about pay, working hours and the threat from COVID-19.

A UNISON survey published last week shows how university staff including cleaners, security guards and administrative workers are feeling increasingly anxious about work, now that universities have reopened <<read more>>

Petition launches to get COVID tests for all education staff

UNISON has launched an emergency petition calling on Matt Hancock for all education workers to be included as one of the groups named for priority COVID-19 testing.

It takes a whole team to keep schools, nurseries, colleges and universities running, but when the health secretary announced the list of workers that will be eligible for priority testing in England, in education, only ‘teaching staff’ were mentioned.

This completely ignores the fact that over half of the staff in education aren’t teachers.

Please sign – and share – the petition


This online workshop will be delivered by an Open University lecturer and is open to UNISON members and activists.

The general content of the day is as follows:

–          Historical background to autism

–          Characteristics of autism

–          Areas of difficulty

–          Typical behaviours

–          Some strategies for dealing with people with autism

The course is not intended to be about how to manage someone with autism in a setting, but is more of a general introduction with some guidance given.

The dates/times for this training are:

Wednesday 4 December 2020 between 9.30 am and 1.00 pm with a break mid way

This online course is only open to UNISON members.  If any members would like to attend this workshop, please log your interest by completing an online form at:-


UNISON Black Members delegation holding UNISON banner

This month, UNISON celebrates Black History Month – a time to celebrate how Black people and communities have shaped our history.

For UNISON, Black History Month is a time to acknowledge and celebrate achievements of Black people throughout history.

Black History and Black British History in particular, is often marginalised.

So Black History Month is a key time to acknowledge achievements and provide an opportunity to discuss wider issues affecting the Black community.

Black History Month is particularly poignant this year, as we reflect on the disproportionate number of Black lives lost during the pandemic.

Dave Prentis, Unison General Secretary writes: “There is a new visibility to Black lives, but for the worst of reasons. So many Black lives have been lost during the COVID-19 pandemic. And while the reasons for this are complex, the main one is the ‘everyday’ racism deeply embedded across society.”

“Black workers have faced the highest levels of risk because they are over-represented in frontline, low-paid jobs. Jobs that have been traditionally undervalued or even invisible.”

If you want to find out more about getting involved as a Black member, take a look at UNISON’s Black members site, or contact our branch Equality Officer Ana Yousaf.


UNISON offers a free standard wills service for members and their partners (if doing a mirror will). We also offer reduced rates for members’ complex wills.

The simplest way to obtain your will is to use our bespoke online wills service.

Access UNISON’s free will service

UNISON’s online wills service is very straightforward to use, just complete the online questionnaire. The questionnaire with its online guidance will carefully take you through the process. 

We have also negotiated a low-cost wills service for members and their families.


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.

Open University Pilot Courses Offered to Members

Open University Pilot Courses Offered to Members

National Office have set dates to pilot some of The OU courses online as listed below:

  • Managing Challenging behaviour: 17th September 9:30am – 13:00pm with a break half way
  • Autism Awareness: 24th September 9:30am – 13:00pm with a break half way
  • Dementia Awareness: 24th September 9:30am – 13:00pm with a break half way

Please feel free to promote these courses with members.  To book onto these courses please use the link below:-

Please note these courses are likely to fill up fast as they have been offered to all regions.