The Tertiary Education Union (TEU) has confirmed a national vote on strike action will be held this week.
The news comes after all eight universities in New Zealand called for paid stop-work meetings on Wednesday 28 September.
The TEU and the Public Service Association (PSA) held joint votes and discussions at these meetings to inform members of ongoing collective agreement negotiations with tertiary institutions.
These negotiations come following the expiry of previous collective agreements between unions and tertiary employers. Negotiations for a new collective agreement began in July, and have so far not been settled.
The focus of union bargaining is to bring pay-rises in line with recent inflation, at 8% over a period of a year. The stop work meetings were held as all eight universities’ pay offers were criticised for falling well under recent inflation, meaning staff would be accepting a pay decrease in real terms.
Currently, average pay rise offers from universities across the country sit at 2-3%. The University of Auckland is offering 5% in 2023 and 4% in 2024 with “claw backs”—decreases in staff benefits such as a slash in long service leave and retirement benefits. They also proposed “grandparenting” benefits, meaning current long service and retirement terms would apply to current staff, but not new hires. Without claw backs, the University’s offer decreases by 1% in each respective year.
The University of Auckland is also offering an additional 1% pay increase for staff on salaries less than 60k per annum.
However, members of TEU and PSA say that’s not good enough. At the stop work meeting on Auckland’s City Campus, members expressed concern and frustration over these proposed conditions. Many pointed out that although the numbers seemed good on paper, and in relation to other university offers, accepting such a collective agreement would detriment the sector as a whole, and compromise its future.
Dr. Paul Taillon, a long-time union member at the University of Auckland said: “The removal of core terms and conditions from the collective agreement don’t relate directly to our salary but they do bear a cost… our future generations will lose, and they will be further squeezed. That will not only hurt them, it will hurt this University.”
One union member pointed out that any salary less than 70k was now recognised by the New Zealand government as a low income, and criticised the existence of 60k per annum salaries within the University.
In an email to staff released just after the stop work meeting, the University stated that they are “aware of the financial pressures of the current economic environment and the impact of the cost of living increases on our staff, particularly in Auckland… We remain committed to bargaining constructively and in good faith with the unions.”
PSA Organiser Bella Chase says they’re proud of the turnout at the University of Auckland’s stop-work meeting.
“People are struggling, and they want to feel valued,” says Chase, who cites cost of living as one of the reasons for coordinating a national, cross-union response for staff in the tertiary sector.
“It’s time universities paid a decent cost of living pay increase, and respected and valued their staff.”
“We’ve made our position clear here today,” added TEU Organiser Nicole Wallace.
Should the vote to strike pass nationally, a strike committee will be formed to coordinate strike action across the motu.
PHOTO: Members of the bargaining team at the University of Auckland hold signs following the unanimous vote to open a strike ballot at the stop-work meeting on City Campus. Photo by Jessica Hopkins.