UCOL pay standoff leads to strike

LUCY TOWNEND
Last updated 07:27 09/04/2014

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Classes were cancelled and staff had their pay docked as UCOL workers went on strike again in protest against the polytech's employment conditions.

A full-day strike took place at the Palmerston North campus yesterday where many of UCOL's 220 union members, made up of academic and support staff, boycotted work.

Staff members steered clear of the site for the day and as a result had their pay docked.

The move follows months of ongoing industrial action, including strikes, rallies, Wear Red events and public forums.

The action has been spurred by a stalemate between UCOL and the Tertiary Education Union over the lack of an across-the-board pay rise this year - the union wants 2.5 per cent.

UCOL spokeswoman Jean Archer said 38 of the 256 scheduled classes were rescheduled or replaced with self-directed student learning.

"Some students have expressed concern about the impact of strike action on learning," she said.

TEU branch president, and UCOL nursing lecturer, Tina Smith said it was saddening that industrial action had impacted on students but it could have been avoided if bargaining, where the polytech was willing to discuss pay and other employment matters, such as fixed-term contracts, began again.

UCOL "have choices in this and if they haven't even responded to this, what's it going to take? If I can't role model to my students that we have to have the courage to stand up when things are wrong, what sort of lecturer would I be?"

Staff members felt as though they were being "punished" by the polytech for sticking up for fair employment conditions, Smith said.

"All the members taking strike action are losing a whole day of pay and that's huge for many staff members who have families and mortgages to look after. For many people [striking] it's been a really difficult choice to do so," she said.

UCOL had no obligation to pay striking staff and no profit would be made, Archer said. "It is normal practice for employers to deduct pay where strike action has occurred, but UCOL has committed to putting this salary funding aside in order to secure any further teaching required to enable students to succeed in their studies."

At the last round of negotiations UCOL said it would give staff a pay rise if it received funding from the Government - an offer overwhelming rejected by the union.

Until then the polytech has proposed to pause bargaining pending a result on the government funding situation, expected soon.

Smith said UCOL had the chance to "change its mind, and prove it is a good local employer which gives pay rises" whenever it wanted.

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- Manawatu Standard

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