16 Mar 2017

Auckland University staff strike for higher pay

9:33 pm on 16 March 2017

More than 1000 staff at the University of Auckland have walked off their jobs in a bid for better pay.

Striking staff were joined by students at a protest at the university's city campus.

Striking staff were joined by students at a protest at the university's city campus. Photo: RNZ / Eva Corlett

About 1200 teachers and workers cancelled lectures and stopped work and about 300 of those, alongside students, rallied at the university's central city campus.

The Tertiary Education Union said the strike was a last-resort action to get the vice-chancellor to agree to a 1.2 percent pay rise this year, followed by a $1200 increase next year or $3500 for those at the bottom of the pay scale.

TEU spokesperson Josanne Blyth said the union had been bargaining over the collective agreement with the institution for the past nine months.

The university has said it would like a two-year collective agreement, when usually it was one year, Ms Blyth said.

"For the second year, we have said we want a flat rate of $1200."

The union's demand was about giving professional staff on the lower end of pay scale a leg up, she said.

"A lot of those people are on wages they struggle with. This is an institute that teaches equity, we have students work here - it's about them seeing that this institution can treat people fairly."

School of cultures, languages and linguistics professor Helen Charters, who was among those striking, said redistributing pay would allow lower paid workers to get a bigger increase.

The pay gap between lower and higher paid staff had widened over the 20 years she had worked at the university, Dr Charters said.

"Our junior academic staff can't buy houses, they can't afford mortgages, some of the staff aren't even making the living wage.

"Our vice-chancellor says we are the leading university in the country - so lead. Lead in terms of social justice and lead in terms of equity," she said.

Students also gathered to wave placards in support.

Auckland University Student Association president Will Matthews said the student-staff relationship was the most important at the university.

"These are the people teaching us, marking our assignments, making sure our library books are in order, working in dangerous conditions in workshops and labs, often working overtime to make sure our education experience is the best it can be," he said.

It was reasonable and only fair that students supported them, he said.

Pay-scale problems

Auckland University vice-chancellor Stuart McCutcheon said if the collective agreement was approved, staff who were not union members would end up on a different pay scale, which would create administration costs.

Mr McCutcheon said he was not philosophically opposed to a flat-rate increase, but the majority of staff, including non-union members, would have to agree.

The strike started at 10am and ended at 2pm.