Don't lean on students, strikers told

Last updated 07:27 14/02/2014

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Striking UCOL staff members were warned against rallying student support for their industrial actions in fear it could "divide classes and cause disharmony".

Concerns about staff pressuring students to take part in a public display of support were raised by UCOL's chief executive Paul McElroy the afternoon before action took place at the Palmerston North campus this week.

Academic and support staff, as well as students, wore red on Wednesday to protest against the lack of progress on pay negotiations between the polytechnic and the Tertiary Education Union.

UCOL has said there would be no across-the-board pay rise this year because of well-documented funding cuts but the union wanted a 2.5 per cent pay rise.

Mr McElroy emailed staff at 3.49pm the day before impending industrial action asking them to steer clear of requesting student support.

Staff held a position of power which might make students feel pressured to participate, he said.

"I enjoy democracy and the right to freedom of speech and I respect the right of staff to make their views known as a legitimate part of the employment environment in New Zealand.

"What I am concerned about though is that TEU has stated it will also ask students to wear red in support.

"The relationship between teacher and learner is key to effective teaching and good outcomes for our students [but] using the relationship in this way does not strengthen and build on that relationship and has the potential to immediately divide the class and cause disharmony - I don't believe that's professional or constructive."

TEU branch president Tina Smith said the union had considered asking students but decided against it.

Instead, members handed out pamphlets informing students why industrial actions were taking place, not persuading them to partake, Ms Smith said.

"Taking action is role modelling to students that people should stand up and campaign for fair treatment and decent working conditions."

Ms Smith had promised Mr McElroy in person that students were not being enlisted and was surprised by his email response.

"When I met with Paul it was a very cordial, polite and professional meeting. He might have been concerned we were recruiting students . . . and felt the need to communicate that even though we had given him an assurance we wouldn't."

Students who were wearing red at the event said there was no encouragement by staff members to join in; they supported the cause on principle.

The Association of Students at UCOL (AS@U) president Danny Goodman said there may have been a misunderstanding.

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"There was no undue pressure or influence put on any of the students to wear red. Some did and some that were handing out ribbons.

"Paul just wants people to know both sides of the story, and it was an information exercise . . . it was a fair email to put out."

UCOL spokeswoman Christine Beech said there had been no student complaints about the industrial actions.

She has said the polytechnic is willing to talk to the union about employee job satisfaction, but is unable to budge about money. The latest action followed a two-hour protest last month, when UCOL workers throughout the North Island went on strike for "fair pay".

- Manawatu Standard


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