UCOL staff decry fixed-term contracts

CONTRACT ANGER: UCOL staff member Will Nash speaks out about the prevalence of fixed-term contracts at the polytechnic
CONTRACT ANGER: UCOL staff member Will Nash speaks out about the prevalence of fixed-term contracts at the polytechnic

Angry UCOL staff members have spoken publicly about "demoralising" fixed-term contracts, which the union representing staff says are becoming a rule rather than an exception at the polytechnic.

The Tertiary Education Union and UCOL are locked in a bitter dispute over the lack of an across-the-board pay rise for staff this year.

At meetings last month, union members overwhelmingly rejected UCOL's offer of two additional days' paid leave this year, plus salary increases of up to 2 per cent depending on whether additional government funding was given.

Continuing industrial action is scheduled for the coming weeks, including a full-day strike by unionised staff members on Tuesday.

At a union-organised public forum in the Palmerston North campus's atrium yesterday, staff spoke about another workplace issue they want UCOL to enter into discussions with them about - the prevalence of fixed-term contracts at the polytechnic.

Neither UCOL nor the union were able to provide the exact number of staff on fixed-term contracts to the Manawatu Standard, but forum organiser Lawrence O'Halloran said they were "not abnormal".

"Fixed-term contracts are supposed to be an exception rather than the rule but at UCOL they are no exception."

Other regional polytechnics such as Witt in Taranaki had far fewer, O'Halloran said.

UCOL spokeswoman Christine Beech said ‘the use of fixed term agreements was legitimate business practice across the tertiary sector.

"They are used as appropriate to manage fluctuating student numbers and other project-related or fixed-term business needs."

But staff at the forum spoke passionately against their use, describing them as "demoralising".

Vet nursing lecturer Alicia McClenaghan was on fixed-term contracts for two years before being offered a permanent position at UCOL.

"It was the worst during the Christmas and New Year period trying to get a job in between.

"Basically you don't get told until five minutes before you're back teaching whether you will be given a contract.

"I had to go to the dole office and jump through their hoops just in case. I potentially had a job, I just didn't know."

Medical imaging, physics, and health sciences teacher Dr Will Nash said he had a situation where he was teaching full-year courses but was only on a contract for one semester.

"The money had been paid by students up front but they couldn't even tell me if I had been hired for a second semester until a week before," Nash said.

"How was I supposed to plan ahead?"

Senior lecturer Lorna Johnson said she had signed nine different part-permanent, part fixed-term contracts with UCOL since January 2011.

"You would think after 11 years I would be a valuable asset for them."

More public forums touching on different UCOL staff issues are planned for the near future.

Manawatu Standard