By Sandra Grey, National Secretary of Te Hautū Kahurangi | Tertiary Education Union
Outrage at suggestions that nurses, teachers, social workers, and doctors were not worthy of a pay rise this year has been swift.
Harnessed, this outrage led to an agreement between unions and the Minister of Public Services, Chris Hipkins, that there will be genuine pay negotiations for those who work in public sector jobs and that there is no pay freeze.
The passion for defending the workers who staff hospitals, teach our children, those who provided advice and action to keep us safe in a COVID-19 world, provide guidance and support to those in distress, must continue if pay rises are to become a reality.
And it must continue for all those who ensure daily that over 340,000 learners (these learners are our children, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, friends and colleagues) get access to quality life-long learning.
In the latest COVID-19 pulse survey TEU members have shared how they are feeling after a year of doing everything they can to keep learners engaged in their – it is pretty dire.
Nearly half of all academics surveyed said they were very stressed and almost a third of general and allied staff expressed this level of stress.
This is stress that leads to health issues, burnout, affects whanau.
“I have been expected to partially absorb the work of an entire separate team of professional/general staff who took voluntary redundancy prior to Covid, and were never replaced. The end result is that I now feel as though I’m failing at everything because I don’t have time to complete any of my tasks in a proactive, structured, well thought out fashion.”
“I was directly ordered by our dean to take leave even after I pointed out that I would be unable to meet research and teaching obligations if I actually took it. But budget targets were evidently took priority over my wellbeing.”
“Our Dean & PVC have been completely silent with regard to advocacy on our behalf, and our SLT are completely blind to the awful, debilitating stress that they have placed us under. I know of colleagues who have been suicidal.”
This is stress caused by being great staff members who want to do all they can to ensure learners are still getting what they need.
Now it’s time to ensure these workers get what they need.
University, polytechnic, and wānanga employers can show they really do value their staff by coming to the negotiating table with a pay rise.
The next thing needed in our polytechnics, universities, and wānanga – where student numbers are up in some cases by 35% – is an end to hiring freezes and cuts to courses and jobs.
While COVID-19 did have a real effect on the budgets of the tertiary education sector, rising student numbers, government financial support, and the surpluses in some of our institutions do not warrant ongoing actions which push more and more work onto fewer and fewer staff.
While the focus of the discussion with the Minister of Public Services this week centered on ensuring pay rises could be negotiated, he also acknowledged that workload and wellbeing issues are a priority.
It is time the leaders of universities, polytechnics, and wānanga did the same.
Here’s the rub, if we want New Zealanders to have access to quality teaching, learning, support, and research in our public tertiary education, we need well supported staff.
We say it often, but it’s worth repeating – our students conditions of learning are our conditions of work.
The government has made it clear in meetings with unions this week that it understands the importance of pay rises and tackling workloads. We rightly expect the same of those managing our publicly funded universities, polytechnics, and wānanga.