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Guest post – let the outrage continue!

Written By: - Date published: 8:24 am, May 13th, 2021 - 29 comments
Categories: Unions, wages, workers' rights - Tags: , , , , ,

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.

29 comments on “Guest post – let the outrage continue! ”

  1. Pat 1

    A ham fisted attempt to limit inflation and the increased risk of debt deflation. The intent could be argued it was supportive of the low and moderately paid but highlights the cul de sac allowing monetary policy to direct our economy for decades past has led us into….and the near impossibility of a painless exit.

  2. Anne 2

    Then there is the other side of the coin:

    The cleaners who work night and day cleaning office blocks, schools, hospitals, public utilities and other institutional entities. The supermarket workers who work night and day supplying 5 million people with their food and other needs and who increasingly face abuse from self centred and often racist customers. The transport workers who build and repair the country's roads. The factory workers who produce goods and services without which we couldn't survive. And the list goes on…..

    A large portion of the above workers are on the minimum wage and have to work at 2 to 3 jobs in order to eke out the barest of living conditions. Are they not in dire need of a substantial income lift? Or are they considered less important than their professional cousins?

    In a Covid ravaged world where financial resources have become scarcer, should they not be given priority in the current conditions? You know… a decent roof over their heads, access to healthy foods, good clothing and shoes? The things the rest of us take for granted, but things up to 1/3rd of our society do not possess.

    Imo, they should take precedence at this point otherwise this country will be creating even more serious problems further down the track. I think the public servants and related occupations should be prepared to downsize their expectations for a year or so and give some thought to those so much worse off than themselves.

    • Westykev 2.1

      Anne +1

      My wife works in retail and the abuse they received from customers during the lockdowns (and to this day) is really disappointing. The people you refer to were the true heroes doing work on minimum pay

    • Treetop 2.2

      A massive state home build is required (possibly a two tier one) as rent is the main cause of poverty in the above occupations.

      I can see where you are coming from due to the cost of living.

      Who would have thought that those better off were also doing it financially tough and are also struggling.

    • Patricia Bremner 2.3

      100% Anne. All of the comfortable and quite a number of the entitled and just bloody greedy, need to consider all those who are battling to stay afloat.

      "Do we buy another rental/larger home?" Is not the same as "Do we buy fresh food or more bread and eggs?" or "Do we have somewhere to sleep safely?"

      Lip service to the poor and the planet will not do any more.
      The wealthy don’t mind change, as long as they are not affected!!

      It is a Pause and reset, which is badly needed.

    • mike 2.4

      Quite right Anne. In the whole of Sandra Grey's contribution there is not one mention of her fellow state employees who earn under sixty thousand dollars, many a lot less than that. Most of these workers can't rely on a well funded, loquacious and voluble union to push their cause, though that union was strangely quiet during the ten years of Key. They love to play the 'poor me' card, and quite rightly, but a nod in the direction of those public sector workers who are much worse off than themselves might be expected, or is empathy outmoded? C'mon comrades include others. To me it seems that Chris Hipkins is the only one who's noticed those at the bottom.

    • UncookedSelachimorpha 2.5

      The people on $40k argue about those on $65k…meanwhile those with billions are ignored, control nearly all the wealth and are free to contribute very little (with their interests carefully protected by Labour and National). Their wealth has sky rocketed through covid and they pay far less tax than everyone working for a living. Likewise the banks – back to about $1b profit each per annum, by virtue of rights granted to them by legislation.

      Graeme Hart, NZ's richest man, makes $3.4b during Covid-19 pandemic

      BNZ six-month profit jumps 80 per cent, follows other big banks' big results

      If we have debt to worry about – how about looking at the people with all the money?

    • Anne 2.6

      Btw, in the second paragraph the last word should have been counterparts – not cousins. Why I typed that I don't know. 🙁

      And thanks all of you who replied. A pity the media couldn't bring themselves to point out the obvious. And yes UncookedS…. Very good point!

  3. Tiger Mountain 3

    Workers are obviously entitled to fight when and where they choose to do so. But, really, where were the public sector unions during 9 years of Key and English? As soon as there is a union friendly Govt. in office regardless of their intentions–the Wellington offices seem to rediscover industrial action.

    Various Education union memberships it must be said did put up a determined and lengthy struggle, against Hekia Parata’s National Standards, and perennial issues of bulk funding, performance pay and Charter Schools. Sections of the health unions also were in action like junior Doctors etc. But there was barely a squeak out of PSA and other leaderships during the National years.

    Many of the woes of the public sector go straight back to the State Sector Act and bums on seats tertiary regimes which turned Vice Chancellors into authoritarian slash and burn merchants.

    The campaign that is really needed, is to roll back the neo liberal state and the penetration of public infrastructure by private capital. Maybe the “Freeze” fiasco of the past week will wake some up to the fact that Labour is not always your friend when they are guided by monetarist theory and legislation.

    • Chris 3.1

      It's because the public sector unions like the TEU and PSA are completely at home spending their days and nights sqaurely up the employers' arses.

  4. Treetop 4

    The biggest cost people face is housing, next is probably childcare. Some sort of housing and childcare package is required for police, nurses, social workers and teachers.

    • gsays 4.1

      Ironically both housing costs and childcare can be taken care of by significant lifts in wages.

      Not needing to have both parents working. Radical I know, 50 years ago it used to be able to be done.

      • greywarshark 4.1.1

        It was great to have a choice of working or staying at home with the children, for the period when that was possible. The two parents could work hard together to build savings, buy a house and have the security and responsibility of running their own lives – not being tossed about like a boat in a storm. Now never in one place for long, never knowing what job they will have for more than a year or so. And still being expected to be performing a job to a high standard.

      • Rosemary McDonald 4.1.2

        …both housing costs and childcare can be taken care of by significant lifts in wages.

        Yes. But unfortunately rent, power, food costs etc would all rise in tandem 'in order to pay the extra hourly rate' and so on and so forth.

        Wage increase and price and rent freeze.

        No political party within sight, or living memory, has the will to sort this.

        • gsays

          'Yes. But unfortunately rent, power, food costs etc would all rise in tandem "

          Probably, if they stayed in the 'market driven' society we are tumbling about in currently.

          If those costs were absorbed in an environment where the community/whanau/family were paramount them prices don't have to rise or if they do, their impact is less impactful.

      • Treetop 4.1.3

        The working poor are the police, nurses, social workers and the teachers who are trying to save for a home deposit or who have children under 3 or a few children.

        Targeted allowances are necessary due to where the above occupations live and where they are financially.

        • Pat

          Police, nurses and teachers may not be paid well enough but they are most certainly not the working poor…..the median income in NZ is 53000pa…that means half the population earn less than that.

          • Treetop

            Reread the first paragraph.

            …who are trying to save for a home deposit or who have children under 3 or a few children.

            High end working poor.

            The rent currently paid and child care costs do not leave much. This income bracket get less government assistance e.g. accommodation supplement and childcare subsidy due to their income level. Not sure about WFF.

            Put another way police, nurses, social workers and teachers should be able to pay a mortgage. Many are struggling to be home owners.

            The median income compared to the cost of homes is the main problem.

            • Pat

              If you are going to label those earning above the median income (in some instances by 10s of thousands) 'the working poor' what then do you call those who earn less than the median income?

              • Treetop

                Working poor as well.

                Low, medium and high working poor.

                It depends on the personal circumstances as well. One income, saving for a home, age of children if any, whether or not eligible for accommodation supplement, WFF or a community card, a student loan, part of the country where they live.

  5. Byd0nz 5

    Trade unionists went to war to preserve the way of life at home, like the 40 hour week, one wage household, a better future for the children yet to come. Not for a minimum wage that is not even a living wage. They never went to war for this sort of future.

    So much for lest we forget, we've already forgotten.

    • Marcus Morris 5.1

      "A land fit for hero's." Yeah, right. Totally agree with all that Anne and those who have supported her, have said. To what extent has this government been transformative and do we have a timid Treasurer who is dominating procedures?

  6. Patricia Bremner 6

    Unions were made a dirty word by pure political spin. Unions terrible/ Round table good.

    Associations were fine… a sort of club. Any organising by workers, or talk of conditions was squashed as not for the workers to decide.

    So we are slowly getting some balance, slowly being the operative word. Wow the outcry has been fierce.

    I think the Government read the tea leaves and cut these Unions off at the pass, as they were not aiming to improve the lives of their low paid members, looking only to their own stress. We have all been stressed by the ongoing pandemic, and those on low money have had that added to their usual stresses.

    The Government has taken a position. We need to lift the wages of the poorly paid, we need to curtail the greed and self serving nature of the discussions. We need to focus on our struggling people and environment, that will lift everyone.

    • Byd0nz 6.1

      The Government has taken a position. We need to lift the wages of the poorly paid, we need to curtail the greed and self serving nature of the discussions. We need to focus on our struggling people and environment, that will lift everyone.

      Agree whole heartedly.

  7. Ad 7

    The Government is behaving like a cartel across the entire public sector that employs about 25% of us.

    They were only able to do that when the borders were closed. Now that they are opening, they are going to feel the real heat from a rich Australian government who have launched a budget designed to go and get the best and brightest in the world, and to drive unemployment down to 4%.

    […] [T]he Aussies are now going to throw down $74.6 billion over the next two years on tax cuts and business while lavishing tax breaks in sectors such as health, aged care and mental health: traditionally low wage industries, dominated by women.

    But the consequences of those decisions could now be felt keenly felt in New Zealand. The resulting pressures of the new Australian largesse could now be felt in the Kiwi Labour market and even start another brain drain.

    This could all create a perfect storm, unless the Budget gets the big calls right: New Zealand has a rich country on its doorstep that’s facing Labour shortages, that pays better wages and has as affordable or more affordable houses. Its Government is pumping cash into driving unemployment down further. And its border is now open to New Zealand.


    Typically all New Zealanders generally do is sneer as they jet off. Or just keep complaining about the wages of cleaners. Which is just piling ignorance on ignorance.

    Then they forget how long the waiting lists are for cancer treatment, radiology, surgery, light rail system specialists, research & development specialists, bridge engineers, water system engineers, specialist policy writers, and more.

    Ardern, Hipkins and Robertson have of course made nice with the unions who get them in power, but the underlying issue of being a low-wage, low-thinking, low-innovation, low productivity, low-ambition economy and society is just going to persist with their attitude.

    [I’ve put the large piece of text that you copied & pasted from Stuff in blockquote and added the link to the article. Please be more careful next time unless you want to be rightly accused of plagiarism here by people – Incognito]

    • Incognito 7.1

      See my Moderation note @ 8:35 am.

    • RedLogix 7.2

      Yup. Guilty as charged.

      Right now I'm at an age when I should be retired but I had two serious job enquiries last week here in Perth – both trying to poach me out of the project I just started. One would have been amazing – two has left me astonished.

      It's old data, but if my memory serves me, fully one quarter of everyone born in NZ now lives elsewhere, we need to start seriously thinking about how to retain it's capable people who have skills in global demand. This will only become more acute as everywhere in the developed world the skilled workforce is aging into retirement this decade onward.

      • Ad 7.2.1

        It's very hard to see us getting great-quality specialists or managers to overcome our rolling crises here including climate change, water governance change, transport mode change, and electricity generator changes – unless it's the usual Fly In Fly Out regime which is what you don't need when you are trying to keep their networks and their capital here.

        And that's just with the framing of crisis response.

        What this government is also lacking is an actual aggressive high value economic growth strategy. Same applies: how do you get more people to sty here who are prepared to make bold investments of the capital and of their families? One negative answer is: don't make dumb moves.

  8. Herodotus 8

    Many of those within the health, education aged care & NGO's are from my observation givers.in nature If it wasn't for their community views we would all be the poorer for it. As givers they do not receive the recognition deserved, they are working in environments that are challenging and that there are increasing demands placed of them. When there is an ability to recognised in some manner our appreciation, some have attack the worthiness of, in this case an in crease in pay, and have brought this down to a situation of the lowly paid need to be addressed at the expense of these pay increases Why has this discussion been manipulated to be one or the other, Why cannot both be addressed simultaneously ? They as issues are not mutually exclusive in their response.

    And as a final comment will not increasing the remuneration of nurses not indirectly assist in reducing the pay imbalance between males & females ?

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