21 Nov 2022

Massey vice-chancellor's 18% pay jump not a pay increase, Public Services Commission says

1:22 pm on 21 November 2022
Massey University's Palmerston North campus.

Public Service Commission figures show Massey University's vice chancellor now earns $586,000 per annum. Photo: RNZ / Jimmy Ellingham

Massey University staff battling over wages and job cuts are furious the vice-chancellor's pay has jumped 18 percent this year.

The Public Service Commission, however, is defending Jan Thomas' $586,000 salary, saying it simply restores her pay to what it was before the Covid-19 pandemic began, when she - like many other public sector bosses - took a voluntary pay cut.

Staff at Massey are fighting for a cost of living pay increase to match the current rate of inflation of just over 7 percent.

The university's offering about 3 percent and is also proposing to slash 72 non-academic jobs and substantially change other roles.

Tertiary Education Union national secretary Sandra Grey said members were not impressed with how that compared with the vice-chancellor's huge salary hike, and the pay of senior managers throughout New Zealand.

She had seen commentary on social media about the low offers to university staff compared with the 18 percent increase.

"Where's the fairness in that? I would say that's a pretty broad sentiment across the tertiary education sector."

RNZ spoke to Massey students and staff at the university's Palmerston North campus. Some were shocked to learn of Thomas' 18 percent salary jump, while others said it was a bad look given the pay dispute and proposed job loses.

Thomas' pay cut during the early stages of the pandemic - which kicked in during 2020 - took her pay down to $562,000 in 2019/2020.

In 2020/21 it was $495,000.

The Public Services Commission, which publishes the figures, said the vice-chancellor's pay of $586,000 for the 2021/22 year took her back to what she earned prior to Covid-19.

However, not every public sector leader had seen their salaries restored.

RNZ asked Massey why she earned such a big increase given the staff upheaval and that Massey was $15 million in deficit in July, the most recent financial figures available.

A statement from the university provided no answer.

The university said updated financial figures would be available next month.

Grey said executives should earn decent salaries, but there must be limits.

"At what point do they reflect on the distance between the lowest paid on the campus? And we have some people in some of these institutions who are not even earning a living wage yet."

RNZ has learned of some staff at Massey earning below the living wage of $23.65 an hour, although the university did not answer questions about how many were in that category.

The university said it was still considering feedback about the proposed job cuts for non-academic staff.

And it was not going to say what its latest offer is to tertiary union members.

"Te Kunenga ki Pūrehuroa Massey University remains committed to bargaining constructively and in good faith with the unions. While negotiations are continuing, we won't be releasing further details about our offer," its statement said.

Grey said while people might think university workers were well paid, many were struggling to make ends meet, and something had to give.

"The government, all universities and the Tertiary Education Union need to sit down and talk about the future of our sector because at the moment [it has] job cuts, poor pay rises, really really high senior salaries, and a whole lot of changes to the nature of jobs in the sector.

"This is a sector that needs a proper sit-down conversation about the future.

The gap between the union's wage claim and what was on offer remained too great."

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