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TEU Tertiary Update Vol 15 No 16

Employment law changes

Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson is proposing extensive changes to employment law, which include allowing employers to walk away from collective agreement negotiations. Cabinet approved the changes this week and they will likely go before Parliament this year.

TEU national secretary Sharn Riggs says the changes will have a huge impact upon people working in tertiary education.

"Removing the employer's duty to conclude bargaining is among the worst of the changes - it would mean that we would probably not now have collective agreements in place at the ex ITP-MECA branches - Wintec, NorthTec, Unitec, Whitireia, and Bay of Plenty Polytechnic. It may also have prevented us resolving the long-running dispute at Auckland University last year. Under these changes the employers would have simply been able to say that they had tried their best but could not reach agreement. The effect of that would be that all our members would be sitting on individual agreements with no ability to collectively negotiate a pay increase or changes to their conditions."

The government also intends to remove a provision that guarantees all new employees will be employed on the terms and conditions of the collective agreement for the first 30 days of their employment.

Ms Riggs says this will mean that new workers (who may not know or be told that there is a collective agreement in place at their institution) could be offered any employment conditions at all.

"We know now that employees usually stay on the conditions to which they are first appointed. If those are no longer the union negotiated conditions then new employees could be appointed on conditions that undermine the union conditions. This will enable the employer by default to introduce new conditions into the workplace - for example they could slowly erode timetabled teaching hours."

The minister, Ms Wilkinson says that the changes are modest and pragmatic, and will increase productivity, and help create higher paying jobs.

However, the Council of Trade Unions says the changes being considered are the worst attack on workers' rights since the 1990s and will give employees few options. The CTU says the changes would have enabled Ports of Auckland employer to walk away from collective agreement negotiations and proceed with redundancy plans.

Ms Riggs agrees.

"These law changes threaten to de-unionise tertiary education employees, and drive down pay and employment conditions. They are bad for productivity and worse for any vision New Zealand has of being a high-wage economy."

Also in Tertiary Update this week:

  1. Petition to keep university councils democratic
  2. MIT nixes fundraising BBQ
  3. Budget 2012 preview
  4. Commission agrees with TEU’s PBRF advice
  5. Other news

Petition to keep university councils democratic

A thousand people have so far signed a nascent petition calling on the minister of tertiary education to preserve democratic staff, student and community representation on university councils.

The minister, Mr Joyce, last week said he wants to reform university councils, and that they currently are large and unwieldy.

In 2009 the government pushed through similar changes for polytechnic councils. Those changes reduced councils down to eight members, four of whom are directly appointed by the minister and the first four choose the remaining four. The minister appoints the chairperson and gives her or him the casting vote. Council members may also sit on multiple councils. Staff representatives, student representatives, union representatives and iwi representatives all lost their seats on the new councils.

TEU's petition argues that imposing similar rules on universities would threaten their independence and academic freedom as it has done in the ITP sector.

TEU national president Sandra Grey says it is a myth that good business leaders make good leaders of public institutions such as universities and polytechnics:

"And it is even more of a myth that just because someone is a business leader they are good at governing - we need look no further than the global financial crisis to see what a good job publicly governed democratic and representative university councils have been doing compared to so called entrepreneurial and streamlined business directors."

"Universities have a legal duty to challenge received wisdom and be the critic and conscience of society - including challenging government. How can they do that when the majority of their council owe their seats to the minister who appointed them?" asked Dr Grey.

MIT nixes fundraising BBQ

TEU members at Manukau Institute of Technology had intended to hold a lunchtime barbecue fundraiser for Wiri's locked-out AFFCO workers tomorrow. Members who brought food to donate to the locked out workers and their families would have received a sausage sizzle in return. However, MIT's chief executive Dr Peter Brothers vetoed the idea telling the union [members] he did not think it was appropriate. He has not yet explained why he considers it inappropriate.  

So instead, TEU members at MIT will use their lunchtime to travel to see the locked-out union members and their families to 'shout' them lunch directly.

The Talleys’-owned AFFCO meatworks company has locked out over 1000 of its workers after  bargaining with union members for only 10 hours. Most have been locked out now for nearly three months. The workers have been without pay since the lockout started and their union, MWU, estimates that 5000 children are affected by the lockout.

TEU organiser Chan Dixon says MIT's TEU members are simply trying to support workers in their local community.

"The on-going lockout of AFFCO workers by Talleys is one of the most brutal attacks on working people. We just want to give the workers a chance to feed their families and protect their jobs," said Ms Dixon.

Budget 2012 preview

Finance minister Bill English will unveil an austere 'zero' 2012 budget next week.

The zero, budget (meaning there will be no overall increase in spending, even to account for inflation) is being preceded by several pre-budget announcements highlighting  some areas that will see increased spending as well as preparing voters for some of the less popular cuts.

Within tertiary education, Treasury forecasts from December indicated that tertiary education funding for 2013 will fall to be nearly $400 million below 2009 levels and will continue to fall until 2015. It also shows that numbers of funded full-time equivalent students will reach a record level this year (244,000) and will remain significantly above 2009 levels until at least 2016.

Within the confines of a 'zero' budget, the minister of tertiary education has already signalled that funding for degree-level science, maths, technology and engineering will be up but that funding for humanities and commerce may be down. Funding for PBRF research will be up, but funding for level and 1 and 2 courses may be down.

The budget’s big news story within tertiary education is likely to be restrictions on student allowances to four years of study, and the requirements to pay back loans more quickly. TEU views both these changes as an attack on equity and accessibility. There is no doubt that limiting people's access to allowances, and increasing the financial burden that loans place on some people (especially low income earners, or those from low income families) will prevent some people from studying.

However, the other important equity issue is the gradual shift in funding from level 1 and 2 courses to degree and postgraduate study and research. All levels of study are important but the government is choosing to sacrifice the opportunities of first-time learners who are trying to get basic skills so that it can fund high-end research and study.

The other issue of note is that the Mr English appears only to be looking at the expenses side of the ledger in an attempt to balance future budgets (with the exception being he is not re-examining the 2009 tax cuts for New Zealand’s wealthiest earners, which took an estimated $2 billion out of our economy). He is not looking at investing in areas that can create more jobs, more skills and more opportunities - all of which would lead to more tax revenue and less expense for the government. Tertiary education has a critical role to play in solving New Zealand’s financial problems, but it needs support and resources to do it.

Commission agrees with TEU’s PBRF advice

Lobbying efforts by TEU and others mean that the Tertiary Education Commission will change the way it calculates and reports on PBRF ranking. Currently researchers rated R or R (NE) are included in a tertiary institution’s Average Quality Score. TEU argued that this led to a number of universities targeting R rated researchers with practices involving excessive management scrutiny, limiting of career progression opportunities and so forth. In some instances the employment status of these staff were changed in an attempt to ‘game’ the PBRF system. While such practices did not gain the universities any more money, they do improve their ranking comparative to other universities.

TEU’s written submission told the commission staff whose institutions had targeted them in this way suffered limited career progression opportunities and, in some instances, in redundancy.  It supported processes that offer the better protection against using PBRF performance as a rationale for making changes to employment conditions.

Meanwhile, Otago unviersity's branch co-president Dr Brent Lovelock today told the Otago Daily Times people were losing their jobs because universities were "desperately trying to maintain or improve" their positions on PBRF tables.

"The PBRF process ... has put alot of stress on staff and resulted inthe largest number of redundancies,in terms of academic staff, in my memory and I have been here for 12 years," he said.

Associate editor of the New Zealand Journal of Psychology Associate Prof Neville Blampied told the Otago Daily Times PBRF was distorting research by discouraging some academics away from studying local issues.

"[Some may] have chosen to study something that is a hot topic internationally ... and not to study stuff which is of very local interest but isn't likely to sell internationally," Prof Blampied told the paper.

Other news

Tomorrow is Pink Shirt Day, an international campaign aimed to raise awareness about the power to prevent bullying. Pink Shirt Day aims to reduce bullying by celebrating diversity and promoting the development of positive social relationships. 

Canterbury University students are plan to hand a petition against the proposed closure of three arts courses to vice-chancellor Rod Carr tomorrow and say they will not leave his office until he receives the document. You Are UC student group spokesperson Morgan Hodgson said that on Friday the group would hold a "petition crawl" at the university, ending up at Carr's office - The Press

Australian National University management has backed away from its plans to ''spill'' the positions of 32 of its tenured and permanent academic and administrative staff at the School of Music, bowing to union pressure to use formal redundancy provisions instead. The decision came as 1000 music-lovers crowded into ANU's Union Court yesterday to protest against the proposed cuts in one of the biggest and loudest rallies in the university's history - Canberra Times

Contrary to the Herald editorial, the biggest factor in the University of Auckland's slip in world rankings is not student numbers. From 2006 to 2012, Auckland's THE ranking fell from 46th to 82nd, yet student numbers increased only nine percent. At the same time, Government funding slowed to below the rate of inflation. Without proper investment, New Zealand academics will continue to move overseas for higher wages, research cannot be adequately carried out and students cannot receive the best tuition - Arena Williams and Sam Bookman

The University of Canterbury's school of music is in crisis and needs to rapidly reverse a student decline to survive, a new report says. To fund a wages’ bill of $1.4 million, the school needed more than 180 fulltime-equivalent students. It had 85 this year. The university said yesterday there was no possibility the music school would close. "This city lives and breathes music and we know the school of music is a critical part of the music community," pro-vice-chancellor Ed Adelson said - The Press

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