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University threatens action against union

20 September 2006

University threatens action against union

The University of Canterbury has threatened action against the Association of University Staff (AUS), following an email petition launched by AUS support of workers locked out by Progressive Enterprises in their current industrial dispute.

The threat of action follows an earlier mover by the University, which saw it block a website-based petition which invited University employees to add their names to a statement declaring that they would boycott Countdown, Woolworths and Foodtown supermarkets in protest against the current lockout of Progressive Enterprises Distribution Centre workers.

In a letter to the AUS Canterbury Branch President, Dr David Small, the University's Director of Human Resources, Paul O'Flaherty, said that, if words identifying the signatories as staff members of the University, were not removed, the University would be forced to take action against the AUS to stop the petition from being sent. The letter said that "the words 'employees of the University of Canterbury' are unacceptable because they risk external parties seeing this as a UC initiative or stance."

Dr Small said that, without discussion or notification, the University ordered an employee to close down a website being used to gather signatures for the petition, and that the email petition was subsequently used to allow staff members to voice support for the locked-out workers. "The petition never purported to be a formal University position, but it is a fact that those staff who signed the petition are members of Canterbury University staff," he said. "In a similar way, some students are supporting the locked-out Progressive workers, but it is not considered for one moment that they represent the formal view of the University."

Dr Small said that freedom of expression, the open exchange of ideas and engagement with the community are fundamentals to the role of a university. "To threaten presumably legal action against the AUS in such a manner is not only heavy handed, but runs counter to the principles of academic freedom and the responsibility of the institution to act as critic and conscience of society," he said. "University management is acting like the thought police."

The AUS has refused to give University management an assurance that it will alter the words before the petition is sent.


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