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University Of Waikato Staff Protest On Open Day Over Stalled Pay Talks

Natalie Akoorie, Waikato Reporter

University of Waikato staff have picketed outside the university's Pā for a better pay rise, saying what has been offered is below inflation.

Up to 110 members of the Tertiary Education Union (TEU) donned strike T-shirts and waved placards and flags for three hours during the university's open day on Friday.

Together with high school students, who joined the protest in support, they chanted "What do we want? 5 percent. When do we want it? Now", and the sang the chorus of the Twisted Sister song 'We're Not Gonna Take It'.

TEU lead organiser Shane Vugler said members took the strike action because eight months of negotiations with the university for better pay and working conditions were at an impasse.

The university was forecasting $24 million in revenue this year but was only offering $4m for staff pay increases, Vugler said.

That equated to 2.85 percent. The union had dropped its demanded from an 8 percent increase to 5 percent.

Vugler shared an email from a staff member, written to university vice-chancellor Neil Quigley on Thursday, begging for a fair salary offer.

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"None of us want to strike on open day, but this is the only option we seem to be left with," the person wrote.

"A 5 percent pay increase backdated to 1 April is a measly request, and yet it seems to be so far from what you're willing to offer.

"My mortgage has doubled. My rates have gone up. My insurance is beyond comprehension. I can barely afford food. Sometimes I consider whether I have enough petrol to make it to work.

"I have $0 in savings if anything goes wrong. Most fortnights, I end up with a few dollars left in my bank."

Vugler said staff had had enough.

TEU national president Julie Douglas told the crowd she was disgusted to have to be there on strike, eight months into negotiations.

"It is a disgrace we have waited this long here at the University of Waikato. We need to stand together and make sure you are heard and you get fairly remunerated because you deserve it."

Protester Tawhanga Nopera said there was no longer many Māori staff at the university because the work conditions had changed so much.

"As a Māori staff member, that's all my leadership, that's all the people who encouraged me to step forward, that's the people who have mentored me to be who I am and that really sucks.

"It's definitely about not feeling valued. I think most people these days are feeling like their voice doesn't really matter, because people who really have power seem to be making decisions without talking to people around them."

Quigley did not address the protesters but a university spokesperson said it recognised and respected the right of union members to strike.

"We are focused on minimising negative impacts on students and staff as much as possible and have asked academic staff intending to strike to communicate alternative plans to their students."

She said the university was committed to continuing to teach, research and carry out engagement with its communities, in particular via Friday's annual open day, which was the university's single biggest recruitment event.

"The vice-chancellor is focused on engaging with prospective students today, and is also required to only communicate with union members via the delegated representative during bargaining."

The union had about 500 members, and the university spokesperson noted "a significant number of union members have indicated their support for open day and our recruitment initiatives by choosing not to participate in the strike action".

She said the university was committed to engaging and bargaining in good faith with unions.

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