A tale of Two Universities

Written By: - Date published: 8:50 am, September 26th, 2016 - 47 comments
Categories: Unions, wages, workers' rights - Tags:

Tertiary Education Union TEU
Tertiary Education Union (TEU) members at the University of Auckland went on a one hour strike on September 22nd at midday. As a first strike action we wanted to send a clear, largely symbolic message, to the university’s leadership that we are unwilling to accept a bargaining process that has not progressed at all with respect to compensation for our members. This has been a persistent tack when it comes to bargaining: over the last several years, our employer has disengaged further and further from any discussions around wages.

The university claims they are in no position to discuss salaries until budgets for 2017 are finalised, in October or November. That of course means that any “offer” of a salary increase would not subject to further negotiations: the budget will have been finalised, after all. However, many of our members manage budgets as part of our work. We know there has already been a salary model disseminated through various finance and budgeting systems for a few months. Those of us applying for external grants from agencies like the Marsden Fund have also given guidance about what sorts of salary increments to expect for the next several years. In other words, the university wants set salaries rather than negotiate them.

What is interesting, however, is that we have purposefully made claims around compensation that distinctly disadvantage many of our members. In fact, we have not asked for any percentage salary increase this year. Instead we have proposed fairness be the guiding principle.

Our claims around compensation seek to address the stark inequity between the wages and working conditions of academic staff and our professional staff colleagues. We have proposed:

1. Elimination of wages in the collective that do not constitute a living wage for persons living in Auckland
2. Elimination of a flawed performance-based compensation review process
3. A process for developing a progression system for professional staff
4. A flat $2,500 increase in salary for all members

Academic staff—for the most part—already have #1-3 above. We get an annual salary increase (usually to midpoint), then we apply for promotion. Professional staff are hired at a salary for their role and stay there, unless they find a new role—at the University of Auckland or elsewhere. There are also no academic salaries in our collective below a living wage; a few persist for professional staff salary scales. Associate Professors and Professors can be granted merit-based salary increases, but these are our most respected and empowered members, who are adept at advocating for themselves have indicated such to us. Less than 10 per cent of our professional staff members get a performance-based salary increase in any given year; perhaps 30 per cent get a small one-off bonus in a given year. The combination of no salary progression, rare performance-based salary increases, and infrequent bonuses has led to wage stagnation—in New Zealand’s most expensive metropolitan area.

Our flat salary increase proposal is designed to disrupt a trend where academic salaries and professional staff salaries drift farther and farther apart. It would mean staff on lower wages will see their wages increase more quickly; those of us already well compensated will still see increases. We are also advocating for a formal review process to determine the extent to which professional staff compensation here is market competitive, fair, and affords opportunities for growth and advancement—exactly what our academic members already have.

When added together, the conditions of employment for professional staff at our university are poor —and getting worse. That matters to us—deeply. We work together, as a team, and professional staff contributions to the research, teaching and service enterprises of the university are as important as academic ones.

Currently in New Zealand union members can strike, but their employer can suspend workers during a strike and dock their pay for the period of any strike. For a one hour, lunchtime action you would perhaps assume that the work required to collate data about who participated, their wages and the proportional amount to reduce them, would be more trouble than it is worth.

You would be wrong: that is precisely what the University of Auckland is doing. Since mid-week a flurry of spreadsheets has been circulated to identify which TEU members would be participating in the job action. Yesterday and today managers have been rolling up these data back to HR.

Most importantly, the churlish tone of the communication from our Director of Human Resources has catalyzed our members. Members who were unable to participate in the strike have asked for their wages to be reduced in solidarity regardless. Others have offered to contribute to our branch committee an equivalent amount to support our bargaining campaign. We have received hundreds of messages of support indicating a well of frustration with both the substance and tone of university communication regarding this week’s strike.

The University of Auckland relies on the good will of its staff to operate. That is not an overstatement: nearly every single one of us—TEU members and not—work a great deal of overtime, some as much as an extra 40 hours a week. For academics this involves conducting and disseminating research, teaching courses, supervising research students, managing laboratories and research centres, and a broad range of service work. A remarkable number of us never take our full four weeks of annual leave. If we are sick on a teaching day we–rightly or wrongly—front up regardless. We work into the night to get feedback to students, colleagues and collaborators.

No one works at a university to become a millionaire. We don’t expect applause, or prizes. But we do expect respect, professionalism, and tact. Threatening to deduct one hour of our wages for this week’s strike action is petty and insulting—and inspiring. Fairer pay and fairer working conditions for all our TEU members at the University of Auckland are principals our members are willing to fight for.

John P Egan, University of Auckland

47 comments on “A tale of Two Universities”

  1. James 1

    “Currently in New Zealand union members can strike, but their employer can suspend workers during a strike and dock their pay for the period of any strike. For a one hour, lunchtime action you would perhaps assume that the work required to collate data about who participated, their wages and the proportional amount to reduce them, would be more trouble than it is worth.”

    So it’s ok for you to use your rights – but you don’t like it when the employer (who pays your wages) uses their rights ???

    • Sanctary 1.1

      No workplace can run effectively without goodwill and good faith between management and staff. I guess if the bosses insist on their rights, the staff can start insisting on only doing their regular hours. We’ll see who squeals first.

      • RedLogix 1.1.1

        Exactly. Almost all salaried staff these days work far more hours than they are supposed to do, but most employers like to pretend it doesn’t happen.

        Nah a move like this from the University is a deliberate, calculated undermining of good faith. It’s exactly the kind of bullshit that pisses people off and they must know it. So what is their agenda?

      • James 1.1.2

        I agree with this also.

    • Nick Warner 1.2

      The point is that for a one hour lunchtime (when staff aren’t working anyway) strike, the employer is being very petty in exercising their right. It clearly costs them more to take that action than the strike cost them. It displays the University’s lack of good faith intentions when it comes to dealing with its staff.

      • framu 1.2.1

        “It clearly costs them more to take that action than the strike cost them”

        thats only if its a paid lunch break of course

    • John P Egan 1.3

      If you worked hundreds of hours of unpaid overtime over many years, had an employer unwilling to substantively negotiate during collective bargaining, and they then dinged you for one hour of a strike…you would think that’s acceptable?

      Sometimes it’s not a question of il/legal…

    • Bruce 1.4

      James, I think you are missing the point. Given that this symbolic strike does not harm the university with regard to actual work accomplished, a less belligerent tack by the employer would be wise in my opinion. Why not exercise discretion? It is not that anyone has argued that they do not have a “right” to do this, though many reasonably question how much an hour deduction is actual worth given that many of us put in well over 40 hours per week. And this extra time is not confined to the teaching term, it occurs virtually all year around.

  2. James 2

    “1. Elimination of wages in the collective that do not constitute a living wage for persons living in Auckland”

    So what is a living wage for someone in Auckland ??

    • Craig H 2.1

      $19.80 per hour, although to be honest, $22-$23 is probably more like it for Auckland.

      • James 2.1.1

        So you dont know either? Has an Auckland wage being published ? How much are they exactly asking for?

        • John P Egan

          You are adept at typing…try typing into Google. http://www.livingwage.org.nz/what_is_the_living_wage

          • James

            I know you were in a hurry to try and put in a smart reply. But try reading the question?

            They don’t ask for the living wage – they ask for a living wage for Auckland ? Is this different or qualified.

            Now take time. Read question and try to answer if you are capable.

            • Craig H

              To actually answer your question, the living wage is the same in all areas – there is no separate wage for Auckland.

        • Craig H

          The Living Wage movement has a website which explains that the Living Wage is currently $19.80 per hour as given, which is based on a family of 2 adults, 2 children, with the 2 adults working 60 hours per week between them (typically 40 for one and 20 for the other).

          However, I have provided budgets here (on other topics) which show that it’s a struggle in Auckland even at that wage, hence my comment that $22 – $23 per hour is probably more accurate in Auckland.

          • Groundhog

            Would the payment of a living wage to the family in your example coincide with the end of any benefits such as WFF?

            • Craig H

              The WFF, Accommodation Supplement and Childcare Subsidies are built into the calculations of $19.80 per hour and are required to make it work – this qualifies for $6136 WFF + $1144 Accommodation Supplement (in Auckland) = $7,280 + $4/hr childcare for each child. Being paid the Living Wage would reduce the amount of WFF paid, however, by 22.5c per $1, and would result in a reduction of Accommodation Supplement as well.

              For a wage which is not eligible for any of these subsidies, they would have to be paid $28.67/hr (current WFF threshold for 2 children divided by 60 hours/week).

  3. Richard Rawshark 3

    James everyone in NZ that works for a living is underpaid. Instead of picking an argument how about you go back to reducing one of your staff to tears, i’m sure they are all useless and not worth the pittance you probably pay them.

    Or are you underpaid but happy about it.

    • James 3.1

      Really? Everyone in NZ who works for a living us underpaid?

      So you are saying everyone on over 150k pa is underpaid also?

      Im not an employer. But I work for a living and Im pretty happy with my lot. Heck – if I dont like it – I can always get a job elsewhere.

      • RedLogix 3.1.1

        When you look at the table IRD recently published it was clear that while very, very few New Zealanders earn more than $150k, roughly half of have a taxable income less than $45k.

        Trust me mate, that’s underpaid.

        • Groundhog

          By whose standard? Under what circumstances?

          • RedLogix

            Oh fair enough. I see your standards are much lower than mine.

            • Groundhog

              It was a simple question. Claiming a particular remuneration is ‘underpaid’ is meaningless without some context. I’d also be interested in where you got the figure from. For example the full time median income in 2014 was $51,000. A person earning that with a family will also be entitled to substantial assistance from the government, so context really does matter.

      • Richard Rawshark 3.1.2

        what sort of dickhead uses those over 150k..bullshit argument. what a cock james, you very well know what I mean your just an a-hole, fuck off.

        • James

          “James everyone in NZ that works for a living is underpad”

          Thats a quote for you – Im just showing that your comment is, well, inaccurate and stupid.

          Your next reply even more so. Calm down – you will have a stroke the way you are going off.

          • framu

            its more that your being pedantic for effect

            or you truly didnt get the gist of the comment of course, you choose

      • Macro 3.1.3

        “I can always get a job elsewhere.”

        Lucky You!

  4. Michelle 4

    The government cant have it both ways if they want experienced hard working dedicated tertiary staff that are good at there job then they need to pay them accordingly just like they do when they employ CEOs to head companies and state agencies , and other top public servants positions these people cannot do there jobs without good support staff.

    • dukeofurl 4.1

      Joyce at the top is squeezing the Universities and Polytechs with their funding, all the while dishing out free money to corporates plus a $24k fridge at MBIE

  5. Vic 5

    Most of this is about the psychological contract in the ‘caring’ sectors – health, education, social work, policing … We do it because we care, not for the money, and put in our blood sweat and tears to build a better world for all of us. In return, we expect the employer to respect that and pay colleagues a living wage. We’re not greedy but we are socially motivated – EVERYONE should get a fair go. Right now a small minority are having a wonderful time, but most are just keeping their heads above water, and some are getting seriously rogered – child poverty, 3rd world diseases, overcrowding, McJobs … It’s just not right. Let’s sort it out – starting with the people in one’s own organisation that are hurting.

    • The New Student 5.1

      Well put Vic. A clear and simple call to action.

      • James 5.1.1

        ” we expect the employer to respect that and pay colleagues a living wage”

        Why expect that the employer pays a ‘living wage’ when you sign a contract to work for a different amount?

        You are in effect saying you negotiate a wage then expect to be paid more (this is assuming that you earn less than the living wage at the moment).

        Its a nice wish – but a lot of business cannot afford to do so. Simple as that.

        Hell there is a commenter on here [removed so they dont get abused] who the other day said that they owned a business and didn’t pay his/her staff a living wage – even tho’ they wanted to – simply because the economics do not allow for it.

        • One Anonymous Bloke

          With the greatest respect to Sabine, small business owners are not notorious for deep insights into macro-economics. However, when we compare what happens on Earth with the ‘sky-is-falling’ rhetoric that infests any minimum wage rise, we discover that these fears are simply not borne out by events.

          Tentatively, the simple reason appears to be that more money in the pockets of low-income workers and families – and therefore spent in the economy – offsets the greater costs of employing them.

          Example: minimum wage goes up higher than the rate of inflation every year between 1999 and 2008. Unemployment by 2007 was at its lowest point since the 1970s.

          Oops, you just failed the reality check.

          • John P Egan

            The University of Auckland can certainly afford to pay all its staff a living wage. #itsnotadairy

  6. talkie_toaster 6

    I wholeheartedly agree with this article. There is a stark difference between what the university says about staff (“collegial working environment! Staff are our lifeblood! Blah blah blah!) and what they do. It was so very, very difficult to get the University put me on an appropriate pay scale, even when the same university is rating me as outstanding in their own (dreadful) performance review system. And I’m in a “hot” area… again, according to the university. I was constantly seeing jobs in Australia that I could walk into and literally double my real income.

    I dealt with the situation by simply leaving. I suspect that will happen more and more. University workers are skilled people. They have options.

    Unfortunately, the end result is a university that simply will not be able to attract decent researchers. We talk, and reputations stick.

    • Nic the NZer 6.1

      So true of what i hear about universities these days. Unfortunately some parts of the payroll appear to be getting very healthy pay increases so the meanness towards some does not lower the cost of education over all.

      The gradual migration of good staff and researchers out of NZ universities will see the standard of tertiary education fall. However if no universities are competing on retaining good teaching staff then there will hardly be any challenge to the hollowing out of these institutions leaving only the expensive beurochratic shell.

  7. lprent 7

    I tend to hear a bit about this because my partner is a TEU member at Auckland Uni.
    But I’m writing as someone who only works in the private sector and observes AU at second or third hand. Offhand it is hard to think of a major employer in Auckland with quite such awful employer practices.

    I have been urging her to get the fuck out of working at Auckland Uni for most of the last decade because they are (in my opinion) crappy employers. I suspect the main reason that she doesn’t is because of Stockholm syndrome and a lack of awareness of what an adequate employer should be.

    While I don’t tend to socialize much with people at AU or talk to my partner about it much. I do tend to notice the same traits among the others I’ve run across who work or have worked there in the last decade. While some of the same employment traits are present in people working at other unis (because of what I do, I get to meet a few for work), in my view they really don’t seem to have the shape of Auckland Universities current rather disturbing employment practices.

    Basically AU make Talleys look a lot more honest because at least the arseholes there tend to be upfront about being arseholes. The current boss at Auckland University seems to use outright lying (see quote below) to induce the kind of futile hope that was so characteristic of the early concentration camp model. This pissant and costly docking of pay appears to be the petty minding characteristic of the man.

    As the post says

    The university claims they are in no position to discuss salaries until budgets for 2017 are finalised, in October or November. That of course means that any “offer” of a salary increase would not subject to further negotiations: the budget will have been finalised, after all. […] In other words, the university wants set salaries rather than negotiate them.

    And it isn’t like they are generous with any salary either. As near as I can figure out the seem to use about a quarter of the annual cost of living rise for Auckland as their benchmark, and even that appears to have been falling over the years and as the housing costs keep rising.

    There also doesn’t appear to be much of a career path for most of their employees, and many of them appear to be locked into extremely tenuous contract positions with little warning if they are getting renewed. About the only characteristic “career path” appears to have been to demand ever increasing hours of unpaid work to simply get through the workloads far beyond what anyone in the private sector would allow.

    Which is fine if you want to eventually lose your staff or to work them into the ground. The apparent view from the university admin appears to be that they can always sucker more students into working for their positions.

    Auckland Uni is in my view, almost the epitome of an intolerable bad faith employer, and it really does appear to be the reputation that the VC there has been seeking.

    I simply wouldn’t think about working there, and I’d advise anyone else not to as well. If you are daft enough to want to work in an educational institution then almost any other educational institution around would be better.

    Hopefully one day my partner will make the jump away… I’ve been holding out for it.

    • Drowsy M. Kram 7.1

      LP – “The current boss at Auckland University seems to use outright lying (see quote below) to induce the kind of futile hope that was so characteristic of the early concentration camp model.”

      This comment recalled to mind the sad humour in the title of an excellent colleague’s retirement seminar about 10 years ago: “Massey University – from Holiday Camp to Gulag”. The best efforts of public-minded scholars notwithstanding, NZ Universities have moved swiftly on from the Gulag to a Hunger Games model. Remains a comparatively good sector to work in, but a shadow of its former self.

      The current Vice-Chancellors at both Auckland and Victoria are ex-Massey academics; sickening how the Victoria VC is actively trying to undermine union membership – a traitor to the idea of universities.

      Anti-union job ads at Vic.

    • Macro 7.2

      It would appear that this poor renumeration and conditions of employment in academia is not just a NZ problem. My cousin in the States has recently retired from Ohio State University and relates a similar situation.

    • Lyn 7.3

      In defense of my so-called’Stockholm Syndrome’ I, like many, many staff at UoA care deeply about the institution, its stated values and the role it takes in the community. That doesn’t mean it’s not a sh*tty employer, but back in the day it used to be a community, with hearts and brains and mediaeval antecedents, one I still feel loyal to. It doesn’t take a very hard look to see that the entire tertiary sector is imploding at the moment with constant restructuring across most universities and polytechs – and that’s worldwide, not just in New Zealand. This is a systemic problem – I can’t easily jump ship. Where would I jump to? And who would I be leaving behind if I did?

  8. simbit 8

    I like universities but we don’t half have too many.

    • We have about as many as Australia does, per capita. I guess it’s possible that Australia also has too many, but “too many” is a pretty vague term.

  9. At Massey the TEU got the same collective agreement covering academic and general staff, and annual increments for all. If they didn’t get that for UoA, it does suggest the UoA management is particularly cunty.

  10. Pablo 10

    There is more to this than a one hour strike and pay-docking. Here is something I wrote about the circumstances surrounding the strike, including a support letter I wrote to the TEU membership list: http://www.kiwipolitico.com/2016/09/confronting-academic-taylorists/

  11. talkie_toaster 11

    I just wanted to share this article from that bastion of hippies, freaks and left-wing loonies, the Harvard Business Review:


    “More people are working in big, bureaucratic organizations than ever before. Yet there’s compelling evidence that bureaucracy creates a significant drag on productivity and organizational resilience and innovation. By our reckoning, the cost of excess bureaucracy in the U.S. economy amounts to more than $3 trillion in lost economic output, or about 17% of GDP.”

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