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Open Polytechnic Staff To Strike

Association of Staff in Tertiary Education

ASTE Te Hau Takitini o Aotearoa

Academic staff at the Open Polytechnic (TOPNZ) are walking off the job tomorrow [Thursday, May 23] after negotiations for a new Collective Employment Agreement reached stalemate earlier this week.

Union representatives met with TOPNZ CEO Shona Butterfield on Monday. But ASTE National President Jill Ovens says the CEO merely reiterated her negotiators’ previous position on remuneration, hours of work, coverage and annual leave.

“Our members had already voted to walk off the job over these issues if there was no improvement in the employer’s offer and there was none,” Ms Ovens says.

TOPNZ is offering a 2 percent increase in salary each year over a three-year period.

Academic staff say the pay offer will not keep up with inflation.

“More importantly, our members are saying that TOPNZ can afford to do better. This is a highly successful polytechnic that has achieved surpluses of $4.13m and $4.82m over the last two years.

“It is strange that in polytechnics that are struggling, the employers use ‘affordability’ to keep teachers’ wages down, yet in those that are making healthy surpluses, the employers say the offer is consistent with what other polytechnics are offering. They want it both ways.”

Staff say their conditions are not the same as other polytechnic teachers. For example, TOPNZ staff get less leave. Meantime, demands in terms of productivity, research output and improved qualifications continue to increase.

“It is our view that the polytechnic’s surpluses are the result of the extraordinary effort that staff put in.”

Ms Ovens says academic staff are asking for an increase in annual leave from five weeks to six. In return, they have offered to increase the weekly duty hours of longer serving staff. This was rejected.

Staff object to the polytechnic’s practice of employing new academic staff on a longer working week than existing staff on the grounds that this erodes teachers’ conditions and is divisive.

The union’s compromise would mean longer serving staff would work one hour a week more, while newer staff would have a one-hour a week reduction.

Coverage is also an issue. ASTE has traditionally claimed coverage of academic staff, but management created a new category of ‘course designers’, some of whom are PSA members and some of whom are ASTE members. The PSA covers allied or non-academic staff at TOPNZ.

“The two groups have been employed on different conditions. Our members are firm that they wish to remain members of ASTE as they are academics, and they want all course design staff to work the same hours a week.

“This has become more of an issue over time as new staff have not always been told about the difference in hours.”

Thus the ASTE negotiators tried to include these members in the coverage clause of the new Collective Employment Agreement. This has also been rejected by management.

“Our members have been putting forward flexible solutions to long-standing issues of workplace equity and fairness. What they see in response is intransigence on the part of management.”


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