Branch Update – June 2023

In 1785 Robert Burns wrote “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”, and this has been evident in my own plans to provide updates on our UNISON branch at York St John from month to month.

The creation of our ‘UNISON at York St John’ teams channel has very much become our go to place for keeping our members up to date on everything from upcoming event, training and development opportunities, updates on campaigns and everything in between. Anyone else coming here however for a flavour of what our branch has been up to in recent months, will no doubt be left with a sense that there’s nothing really going on.

So I thought now was a good time to provide some details on how our branch has been working hard for our members since my last update…..a year ago

In the past 12 months our branch committee has continued to grow to more than 10 officers and reps. We’ve been especially pleased to have filled important branch roles such as communications officer, education officer as well as now having a welfare officer and equalities coordinator. In further exciting developments, we’re hopeful that within the next few weeks we will have a new Branch Chair in place, as well as young members officer. From a branch running with essentially a skeleton committee of 2 people at the start of 2022, we now feel better placed than ever to ensure members from all corners of York St John are represented effectively.

But we don’t plan to stop there. over the course of the next 6 months we’re hopeful that the number of trained stewards in Branch, providing direct support and representation to our members will have grown from 1, to 3 or 4. Beyond this our network of workplace contacts also continues to grow, with dedicated UNISON contacts now found in multiple departments and directorates across the University.

If you work at York St John, there is no better time to join our union than now.

If you’re already a member, there has never been a better time to encourage your colleagues and co-worker to sign up.

As always I am always more than happy to arrange time to speak to anyone who would like to find out more about our branch, whether you’re already a member or not. just drop me an email

Thanks for taking the time to read, I’ll try not to leave another 12 months before I share another update!

Best wishes

Billy Jones

Branch Secretary 

Monthly Update – May 2022

May 2022 – Summary

  • HE Pay Consultative ballot – Outcome
  • Two breakfast drop-ins & Stall in Holgate
  • 6 new members
  • More than 50 hours spent on union activity
  • Direct advice, individual representation & support provided to a number of branch members

I’ll start off with the most important update, which is to say that the branch committee met earlier this morning (7 June) and voted to opt out of the industrial action ballot over pay. Of the members who participated in the consultative ballot, there was an overwhelming majority who felt the pay offer was unacceptable, but in the end the response rate was below what we felt was needed to run a successful industrial action ballot. This was the main reason for the committee voting to opt out.

Some members might feel strongly that we should have included the branch in the industrial action ballot, based on how deeply the cost-of-living crisis is being felt across our membership. We did though very much feel this was the best course of action for the branch at this time. If any members would like to have a more detailed conversation with me about this decision, I would be very welcome to arrange some time to speak with any of you.

I’m delighted that our recruitment activity throughout May went down so well. Both of our breakfast drop-ins were incredibly well attended, and it was really wonderful to have some time to catch up properly with so many of our new and existing members, as well as have some great conversations with prospective members who came to find out more. Thank you to everyone who came down! We hope our stall in Holgate also helped to raise our profile on campus in the two weeks it was there. We’re really pleased to have welcome 6 new members to our Unison branch since the start of May.

Branch Officers spent a total of 51.75 hours on Union activity throughout May, mostly on training (17 hours – mostly Billy on a two day Branch Secretary training course), meeting members (9.5 hours – mostly as part of our breakfast drop-ins and Holgate stall) and branch administration (8.5 hours – mostly planning for recruitment activity and cleansing membership records for the consultative ballot) I’m very happy to provide a more detailed breakdown of how we have spent our time to any members who would like that.

We’ve also represented the branch and its membership at a number of formal meetings and processes throughout May, including through the Staff Joint Consultative Committee, Regional Higher Education Service Group, and several HERA panels.

I think that covers the key points from May. As always if anyone would like to find out about getting more involved or would just like a chat to catch up about the branch, do not hesitate to get in touch!

Best wishes


Monthly update – April 2022

April 2022 – Summary

  • Two new Officers elected, taking our Branch Committee to six members
  • Changes to 11 University policies reviewed
  • More than 24 hours spend in total on Union activity by Branch members
  • Tracking University starters and leavers
  • Recruitment activity planned for May
  • Consultative ballot regarding national pay negotiations will be opening soon
  • New Unison teams channel set up for all members
  • Branch Office has been redecorated
  • Direct advice, individual representation & support provided to a number of branch members

April has been another good month of continuing transition for the Branch, with new Officers who were elected at our March AGM starting to settle into their roles now that key training has been completed. We are also delighted to welcome to our branch committee, Hannah Ridge as our new Treasurer, and Kate Harman who will be sharing the role of Women’s Officer with Heather Cooper.

After a significant period of having only 1 member in a Branch Committee role, I’m really pleased that we’ve now increased our new committee to six members. There’s still along way to go though, and we will always be looking for members to get more involved. Especially in workplace steward roles. As always, if it’s something you have thought about, or would like to have a chat about, please get in touch!

In terms of facility time we have spent more than 24 hours as a branch on Union activity throughout April. Mostly on Branch administration, casework, consultations, and training.

  • Branch Admin – A large bulk of branch admin this month has been sorting through the backlog of email notifications for new members of staff starting at York St John and members of staff leaving York St John. As part of our recognition agreement we’re entitled to contact new members of staff and let them know about the Union, what we do, and how they can join etc. Tracking leavers also enables us to make sure our membership records are kept up to date.
  • Consultations – The majority of time we have spent on consultations throughout April has been in reviewing a large number of policies being amended by HR to reflect where OneUni is now used, and has replaced a previous process. For example, in booking annual leave or recording sick leave etc. 11 Policies in total have been amended in this way, and we have reviewed all the changes made to be satisfied that none of the changes have any wider impact on colleagues.

The National Union have determined that May will be a target month for recruitment, and have asked all branches to schedule recruitment activity throughout the month. With this in mind, we will be scheduling our own recruitment activity throughout May, with a view to improving visibility of the Union, recruiting new members, and retaining existing members.

If you think you might be able to spare some time to support us with this, we’d be very grateful! Just get in touch and let us know, and we’ll find a time in the schedule that suits you. It’s worth noting that no members will be expected to be out on their own for this. If you express an interest in giving some time to help, you would be joined by another member at all times (most likely a Branch Officer), so you won’t be alone!

Alongside the recruitment activity being planning for May, the next few weeks will also be incredibly important with regards to national pay negotiations. The third and final pay negotiation meeting is due to take place tomorrow (Thursday 5 May) and following this, Unison will be running a consultative ballot with all HE members, starting from 11 May and closing on 27 May.

In order to best understand the feeling of our members towards the pay offer, it’s incredibly important that we have as much engagement with the consultative ballot as possible, and will be talking about this when we see members out and about during our recruitment activity in May. The results of this consultative ballot will play a significant role in whether a decision is taken to proceed with an industrial action ballot.

There are also a few updates to share with you regarding branch communication. We have set up a branch wide teams channel, that all members will be able to use to get in touch with the branch committee, raise and discuss issues or concerns, as well as access important or useful documents etc. We will start to add members to this channel over the next week or so. Please feel free to use this space to discuss anything to do with Union or relating your experience of working at York St John.

In addition to this, we have also re-launched our branch twitter account, so that we’re able to more easily engage in wider conversations around Union activities and issues affected staff in higher education. Visit our twitter profile to follow us, or simply search for @YSJUnison. We have also taken the decision to close down our branch Facebook page. This has seen very little activity in recent years, and has only a small handful of members in the group.

And on a final lighter note, our branch office in TW/218 has recently been repainted and looks wonderful! It’s needed a good lick of paint for a while and we’re very grateful to colleagues in Estates for sorting this for us.

All the best


Monthly update – March 2022

I’m delighted to share my first update on our branch activity since being elected as your Branch Secretary earlier this month. Going forwards, these updates will hopefully give you a sense of what we are doing month to month to support and represent you and your fellow Unison members at York St John University, and the wide range of roles and responsibilities we’re undertaking as part of that.

March 2022 – Summary

  • University and Unison jointly announce introduction of voluntary living wage at York St John
  • 30 members attended our AGM, where four new officers were elected
  • More than 63 hours spent in total on Union activity by branch officers
  • Two full training courses completed by branch officers
  • Consultation and feedback on two proposed University policies affecting YSJ staff
  • Key issues from members raised to University through Staff Joint Consultative Committee
  • One team of colleagues (catering) supported through a TUPE process to YSJ
  • Direct advice, individual representation & support provided to a number of branch members

March has been a hugely important transition month for our branch as we saw the election of four new branch officers, and said goodbye and thank you to long-standing colleague and Branch Secretary, Rob Hardy. The AGM was attended by 30 members (both in person and online) where a range of issues were discussed from the impact of Covid, through to ongoing concerns over workload and pay, and of course the big win for Unison in successfully lobbying the University to introduce a voluntary living wage, which will see a significant pay uplift for the lowest grade colleagues at YSJ.  Four new branch officers were elected in the form of Billy Jones (Branch Secretary), Wayne Osguthorpe (Health and Safety Officer), Heather Cooper (Women’s Officer) and Sam Pheby-Mcgarvy (Environmental Officer). A Branch Treasurer was also appointed at the meeting, but due to unforeseen circumstances following the AGM, has meant this role has again become vacant.

It is an area of real importance for the branch in being able to operate as efficiently as possible, and I would really encourage anyone who wants to have an informal chat about what the role might involve to please get in touch with me!

Since the start of March, branch officers have spent more than 64 hours on Union activity, averaging more than 12 hours a week, with time spent on training (38), meeting and supporting individual branch members (5), attending University meetings and participating in consultations (10), internal branch meetings (9), and branch admin (3). This work has involved consultation on two proposed new Policies relating to Agile Working at YSJ and the London Campus Relocation, where we have successfully lobbied for changes to be made on clauses we felt weren’t reasonable or had the potential to impact staff negatively.

We’ve also supported a key team at the University (catering) through a consultation as they transfer to YSJ employment terms of references, where direct Unison intervention and clarification regarding overtime will have a positive impact.

March also enabled us to represent some of your concerns directly to the University as part of our regular informal Staff Joint Consultative Committee meetings, attended by both senior HR colleagues and representative from UCU.

A range of issues have been shared and discussed from ongoing workload concerns, and dissatisfaction on pay, through to issues affecting some specific teams, including how annual leave is being applied, crowded workspace issues, and significantly low morale among staff.

Many of these are ongoing and will involve the branch getting back in touch with affected members to gather more information and evidence to help build a case for the University to act upon.

It’s important to note that this is our main forum for raising any issues affecting colleagues generally or specific teams and departments, so if there are issues or concerns affecting your team or colleagues please let us know so that we can raise these appropriately with the University on your behalf.

We have also supported a number of individual colleagues this month on specific circumstances relating to their own personal employment. This can sometimes be just asking a simple question or seeking clarification about where they stand or what their rights are in a specific situation, and we will always be here and on hand to provide that as best as we can.

All in all, I think we’ve made a steady and positive start to this new period for the branch, and the future looks bright with a host of new active and enthusiastic officers, and fully trained reps in place. But there is ALWAYS more we can do, and it relies on having more members interested in getting more involved. It’s a drum I know Rob Hardy banged for a long time, but it remains the same, the more officers and reps we have, the more we can achieve. I would really love to have a chat with anyone who thinks getting involved is something that might interest them.

I think that covers everything for this first month, I’ll be back again with an update at the end of April to provide some info on what we’ve been up over the month.

All the best