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Hallam staff take action as university management downplay strike

Academics and other university staff are walking out over pay, casual contracts and workloads.

Hallam strike

Staff striking today outside Cantor Building at Sheffield Hallam University.

UCU Hallam.

Staff at Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) have taken strike action over pay and conditions, as university management sought to downplay the credibility of the strike in an email to staff.

Members of the UCU union have walked out over their so-called 'four fights' – on race and gender-based pay inequalities, overall pay, increasing workloads and the use of casual employment practices like zero hours contracts.

In October we revealed that 866 staff at SHU are on zero-hours contracts, with the majority of these being Associate Lecturers.

Emails seen by Now Then, sent recently to all staff at SHU from the university's Chief People Officer, appear to seek to detract credibility from UCU's industrial action.

"The University has around 1,644 academic and research staff, and of these UCU balloted 819 members, of whom 53.8% voted (441 members)," read one email dated 31 January.

"Of those 270 voted to support strike action, representing a 61.4% majority in favour of strike action amongst the 441 members who voted. This means that whilst UCU met the threshold of 50% turnout which the law requires, 16% of academic and research staff voted in favour of strike action."

"What I find with these sort of emails, especially from the person with a title of 'Chief People Officer', is that it just highlights a culture of mistrust from university management teams," Dr Alex Corner, a Senior Lecturer in mathematics at SHU, told Now Then.

"They don't trust, or possibly just don't care, that we are serious when we say there are huge problems in higher education, and they fundamentally don't trust us to do any part of our jobs properly."

As well as walking out on 21 February, 22 February and 28 February to 2 March, SHU staff have also voted to take 'action short of a strike' (ASOS) – sometimes known as 'work to rule'.

According to the definition on UCU Hallam's website, this would "consist of our members only working their contracted hours and duties and not volunteering to do more and not rescheduling classes and lectures cancelled due to strike action."

But in another all-staff email dated 10 February, university management said that they "reserve the right to withhold up to 100% of pay for each day of partial performance once the impact of action short of strike is known."

This suggests that university management are considering docking pay for staff who fulfil their contracted hours and duties – and implies that in normal times the university essentially expects staff to work extra hours for free.

Last week students at the University of Sheffield started to occupy campus buildings in support of striking university staff there, who are also walking out over a pensions dispute in addition to the 'four fights'.

On Monday some Hallam students began to occupy SHU's Charles Street Building, and this afternoon also took over the Oaklands building at the Collegiate Campus.

"The subtle, or sometimes outright obvious, threats that many universities are making about partial performance seem to me to once again just be a way of trying to pit staff and students against each other," said Dr Corner.

Sheffield Hallam University have been contacted for comment.

by Sam Gregory (he/him)

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