Polytech workers demand pay rise

LUCY TOWNEND
Last updated 12:00 31/01/2014

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As hundreds of UCOL workers protested outside the polytechnic for fair pay, chief executive Paul McElroy talked inside about its progress.

Rallies took place at UCOL campuses in Palmerston North, Whanganui and Masterton yesterday. The action was spurred by a breakdown in pay negotiations between the Tertiary Education Union and UCOL.

UCOL's 220 union members, made up of academic and support staff, are wanting a 2.5 per cent pay rise but UCOL has said there will be no across-the-board pay rise for staff this year.

Nearly 80 people, including supporters from the Labour Party, Mana Party, First Union, New Zealand Nurses Organisation, Massey University's TEU branch and city councillors, gathered in Princess St in Palmerston North, waving placards. Fewer than 50 metres away, inside the polytechnic, Mr McElroy addressed staff members about the academic year ahead.

Staff are normally transported to Palmerston North from the other campuses for the yearly gathering but the 2014 instalment was swapped for a series of smaller staff meetings across the three campuses.

Mr McElroy told staff at the Palmerston North meeting that UCOL's roll had grown and its students' success rates had lifted.

He also handed out awards for staff members excelling in research and leadership. A few recipients were in the picket line outside.

Mr McElroy did not front the UCOL staff protesting outside and declined to comment on that or on pay negotiations afterwards.

UCOL spokeswoman Christine Beech said the polytechnic was not in a position to offer a pay increase this year because of well-documented funding cuts from policy makers but it respected union members' rights to protest.

UCOL branch president Tina Smith, who is a nursing lecturer at UCOL, said there was a lack of transparency around pay scales and workers felt undervalued and overworked.

"We know there hasn't been enough funding in tertiary education, we know it's tough and people have gone without and worked harder.

"But what he's [Mr McElroy] done is made the staff suffer, and at the same time we've watched lots of staff leave, we've had a major restructure and everybody has had to work a lot harder with less," Ms Smith said.

The union is calling for negotiations to be resumed.

UCOL said it was unsure whether that would happen.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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