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Money off table, UCOL tells strikers

LUCY TOWNEND
Last updated 09:00 08/02/2014

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The door has been opened on discussions between UCOL and striking staff members - as long as it's not about money.

UCOL confirmed yesterday that it was interested in "good faith discussions" with Tertiary Education Union members.

The polytechnic was happy to meet the union but unable to negotiate a pay increase due to well-documented funding cuts from policy makers, spokeswoman Christine Beech said. This has been the cause of recent protests and upcoming industrial action.

UCOL wrote to the union this week saying it was willing to come to the bargaining table at any time.

"But the union has made this conditional on UCOL agreeing up front to an across-the-board increase, which we simply cannot do," Mrs Beech said.

UCOL union branch president Tina Smith said the offer fell short of bargaining. "Our claims are on the table, they're very clear and very simple, but UCOL don't seem interested . . . we are very keen to go back into discussions and bargaining, as long as they're keen to offer something."

Ms Smith said the union had outlined key aspects to be considered as part of the collective agreement, among which was pay transparency and a 2.5 per cent pay rise. "We weren't asking a lot, just something along the lines of wanting something for our general staff and wanting something around professional development . . . they're just cornerstones." Mrs Beech said bargaining for a collective agreement was more than a negotiation about money.

"There are a range of factors which go to influencing employee job satisfaction, of which pay is one of them. UCOL remains open to a good-faith discussion about what other opportunities there might be to settle the collective agreement."

Ms Smith said: "What are they wanting to discuss then in ‘good faith discussions'?

"We're here to talk about the fact the staff have worked their butts off . . . we've very hopeful that UCOL will see that and invest in them."

Academic and support staff from UCOL plan to take more industrial action, including wearing red on Wednesday as a sign of solidarity against stagnating pay discussions. Hundreds of UCOL workers across the North Island went on strike last week in a call for fairer pay and more industrial action, including a work-to-rule or a withdrawal of goodwill, is on the cards.

Staff picketed outside campuses in Palmerston North, Whanganui and Masterton at the same time as Ucol's annual meetings looking at the academic year ahead.

The action was spurred by a breakdown in pay negotiations and an $800 one-off payment to UCOL's 447 equivalent fulltime staff, received in the midst of negotiations, which the union called a bid to bypass bargaining and quieten querying workers, eroding the real value of salaries.

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The polytechnic had previously told the union there was no available revenue for a pay rise, but it has made three one-off payments since 2010, collectively worth more than $1.12 million.

UCOL chief executive Paul McElroy earns more than $260,000 part-time, according to the State Services Commission, and the lowest salary position covered by the union earns $37,500.

- Manawatu Standard

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