New Zealand strikes: university staff walk out over pay

Staff down tools as pay and university funding alike drift well behind inflation

十月 5, 2022
Unsupervised students
Source: iStock

Synchronised strikes were set to interrupt activities at all New Zealand universities on 6 October, as staff demand inflation-level pay rises and administrators cry poor.

Work was due to stop for up to four-and-a-half hours at each of the eight institutions while staff gathered to rally, march and in some cases picket outside university gates.

The coordinated actions follow ballots of Tertiary Education Union (TEU) members in which 87 per cent of participants voted to strike, according to the union. Members had planned the ballots during paid stop-work meetings in September.

The TEU, along with two other unions, is campaigning for an 8 per cent pay increase to match the rising cost of living. Inflation in New Zealand ran at 7.3 per cent over the 12 months to mid-2022.

“The message we’ve heard loud and clear from our members…is they find their employers’ pay offers unacceptable,” said the TEU’s assistant national secretary, Irena Brörens. “They are feeling undervalued and they are not willing to accept an effective pay cut.”

The union said pay offers to date, proposed during separate negotiations at each institution, have been well below inflation.

The University of Auckland said it had made a “best offer” of a 5 per cent pay rise over two years, with a “general revision” or across-the-board salary increase of 4 per cent, subject to certain conditions. “The offer is fair and reasonable and rewards staff to the maximum extent that it can, while retaining fiscal responsibility,” a message on its website says.

Auckland said it was disappointed that staff had voted to strike before the offer had been fully tabled or subjected to “meaningful discussion”. It said staff were entitled to “participate in lawful strike” but would not be paid while doing so.

Funding for New Zealand universities has failed to keep pace with costs for some years, as the government struggled to meet the costs of coronavirus and – before that – the partial abolition of tuition fees.

Nevertheless, seven of the eight institutions finished 2021 in the black, with most notching surpluses between 2 and 5 per cent. Ms Brörens said universities had mostly been reporting “healthy” buffers in recent times, and the national economy was robust.

“We won’t be accepting the impact of Covid-19 as an excuse for low pay offers,” she said, promising “a strong statement to employers and the government that enough is enough”.

The TEU has written to education minister Chris Hipkins proposing a “tripartite meeting” with chancellors to discuss universities’ “deliberate policy shift to disinvest in staff”. It comes after representative group Universities New Zealand (UNZ) declined the union’s suggestion that the two organisations meet jointly with the government to lobby for more funding.

UNZ chair Jan Thomas said universities’ relationship with unions should be kept at the employer rather than representative body level to avoid “undermining local arrangements”.

“Though we clearly both agree that there is a funding challenge, we are not convinced that a tripartite forum of the sort you suggest is likely to be effective,” Professor Thomas told the union. “At a headline level we will always agree that greater investment is needed in universities, but we are likely to have very different views as to where that investment is going to make the greatest difference.”



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