Next UCOL strike looms

LUCY TOWNEND
Last updated 12:00 21/02/2014

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More than 220 UCOL workers across the North Island will strike for the second time this year - and this time it will affect students.

UCOL academic and support staff are planning to picket outside the polytechnic's campuses in Palmerston North, Whanganui and Masterton on March 4 in another protest calling for "fair pay".

Impending industrial action would upset the polytechnic's day-to-day dealings, Tertiary Education Union (TEU) branch president Tina Smith said. "This strike action will affect students, it will disrupt our day and our work. We don't want to do this, we just want to be valued and to have transparent and fair pay at UCOL."

The action was spurred by a breakdown in negotiations between the TEU and the polytechnic, which said there would be no across-the-board pay rise for staff this year because of well-documented funding cuts, but the union wanted a 2.5 per cent increase.

It follows a strike on January 30 and industrial action last week where staff and students wore red in a sign of solidarity.

Members voted this week to support the union's claims against UCOL and take further industrial action, including another wear-red event next Wednesday, as well as a flier distribution about the dispute and sharing "UCOL staff deserve better pay" stickers.

UCOL spokeswoman Christine Beech said the polytechnic respected the rights of union members to strike and was willing to re-enter negotiations.

"UCOL remains open to a good faith discussion about what other opportunities there might be to settle the collective agreement," she said. "[We're] waiting for the TEU to respond to the invitation to return to the bargaining table at any time."

Ms Smith said negotiations between UCOL and union members began months ago but the polytechnic still had not offered a pay rise or invited the union to talk about a pay rise.

"Our claims in negotiations have been very reasonable, with members just asking for transparency and fairness in their working conditions," she said.

The union has compared information on pay settlements from polytechnics around the country between 2011 and 2014.

"While comparisons are always difficult as each collective is different, what is clear is that, despite tough financial times, other institutions have given pay rises while UCOL has given lump-sum payments and our salaries have shrunk in real terms," Ms Smith said.

She said if a fair offer was put on the table, the union would be willing to call off the strike.

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