Staff at all eight universities in Aotearoa, including The University of Auckland (UoA) and Auckland University of Technology (AUT), participated in strike action on Thursday 6 October.
The decision to strike came after 87% of Tertiary Education Union (TEU) members voted to reject universities’ pay offers across the motu.
UoA staff stopped work from 1 to 5 pm, and gathered outside the City Campus General Library.
AUT staff initially intended to strike for the full work day and withhold student marks from 6–21 October. However, after AUT threatened not to pay striking staff for two weeks, TEU amended proposed action to align with UoA’s, rallying outside Piko Café on Wellesley Street.
Last month, AUT announced that they expect to make up to 230 redundancies, despite making a profit of $12 million in 2020 and 2021.
The TEU, the Professional Staff Association (PSA), and E Tū Union are claiming an 8% pay increase to match inflation and the rising cost of living.
“The message we’ve heard loud and clear from our members up and down Aotearoa is they find their employers’ pay offers unacceptable, they are feeling undervalued, and they are not willing to accept an effective pay cut,” said TEU National Industrial Officer Irena Brörens.
In an email to staff, the UoA stated that they believe their pay offer is “fair and reasonable”.
In a statement to Craccum, UoA said they were “disappointed” that the TEU and PSA chose to strike as students prepare for their final assessments.
“Vice-Chancellor, Professor Dawn Freshwater, said that the University had recently tabled a generous offer of 9% over two years, on top of other performance bonuses and service-related increases, as part of its good faith negotiations, which are still at an early stage.”
“Without a significant increase in funding from central government, the University isn’t in a position to meet union demands for more.”
The University confirmed to Craccum that staff would not be paid for the time they spent striking, despite Otago, Massey, and Canterbury not docking pay during the strike.
According to Freshwater, the vast majority of the University’s staff are not union members, so they expected minimal disruption.
But Brörens said their members are feeling frustrated, angry, and worried about the future of their sector if their pay does not keep pace with the cost of living.
“They are taking action for each of their collective agreements, as a sector and as a union to show tertiary employers how serious they are.”
Dr. Sean Sturm, a University of Auckland lecturer and TEU bargaining team representative, told Craccum that UoA also refused to withdraw their clawbacks as requested by the union, which involve abolishing conditions like the retirement gratuity, long service leave, and removing research and study leave from contracts.
“That seems really mean-spirited, given that they’re asking us to accept a pay offer well below the rate of inflation.”
Dr. Strum says staff are very concerned by the trend in the sector to spend less of universities’ income on paying staff, which means that staff are leaving for the private sector or moving overseas.
“Over the past ten years, the employer at the University of Auckland has reduced “people costs” from above 60% of its income to 50%. And this is at a time when staff workloads that were already very heavy have been made even heavier by the need to move online since COVID hit. These pay, retention, and workload issues affect our ability to support the education of students.”
According to the TEU, UoA has one of the lowest proportions of spending on staff of all New Zealand universities.
UoA student and Co-President of Unite Union, Xavier Walsh, told Craccum it is important for students to support striking staff.
“As a student, everyday I witness the incredible mahi our lecturers, tutors, and wider academic staff do. Without their work, we, as students, would not be able to study. They deserve to be valued and paid fairly by this University. Solidarity forever!”