On March 1, Victoria University offered general staff who are not members of the Tertiary Education Union (TEU) new individual employment agreements which offer pay rises, improvements in long service leave, and a $500 cash incentive. The offer was also extended to new members of staff who had not yet opted to join the TEU.
The new agreement removes time and a half pay on Sundays and the two week notice period—whereby staff need two weeks’ notice before their roster can be changed. Staff transport allowances will also now be at a manager’s discretion. Staff currently receive a transport allowance if they have to work after 10.00pm.
The changes were rejected in 2015 by the TEU, who took issue with the fact that performance-based promotions would be “subject to the whim and budget of the university at the time.” They argued that the new proposed remuneration scale would be less transparent and create an unfair and inconsistent process.
Those most affected by the new remuneration scale are the library shelvers, who would be locked into the first level the new scale. This would mean minimum wage with no opportunity to progress through the pay scale.
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Victoria University’s TEU Rainbow Representative Joshua James told Salient, “the initial reaction of the new individual employment agreements was one of confusion and shock… then there was a level of anger and resentment towards the university. Justifiably so when there is a direct attack on unionised staff.”
With regard to the transport allowance, he told us that because the library is open until 10:30pm the lowest paid workers in the library who are locked into minimum wage may not be able to pay for a taxi out of their own salaries. When asked if the new agreements had created divisions between staff members, he said “there has been a huge demand for non-union staff to seek union advice on the matter. The conflict doesn’t exist between non-unionised staff and union staff, it exists between all staff and the university.”
The new scale puts Victoria University out of line with the rest of the country, as library shelvers at VUW get paid less than their counterparts at other universities.
Victoria’s commitment to lock its workers into a minimum wage goes against campaigns to make the university a Living Wage campus, a movement which the TEU supports.
The new agreement will remove retirement leave for all new or non-union staff. The new individual agreements will however offer staff who have worked for the university for more than five years extended long service leave.
The extension of current working hours to include longer hours on the weekdays and a full working day on Sunday means staff members would lose the right to claim certain overtime hours.
The TEU stated that they “had no prior notice about the offer,” or of the $500 one-off bonus offered to those who sign the agreement, and have called it a “bribe” to pull more members away from the thought of unionising.
Branch organiser for the university, Nicki Wilford stated that many non-union staff have “done the maths” and have unionised with the TEU as a result of the offer.
James told Salient that many people have approached him about joining the TEU, and as a result he believes that the new agreement has “severely backfired” on the university.
Labour Party spokesperson for workplace relations, Iain Lees-Galloway, told Salient the situation was “a classic union-busting tactic and it is disappointing to see a public institution engaging in this type of behaviour. Their hope will be that union members will be tempted to get the short term sugar hit from these bribes and forego the longer term benefits of being on a collective agreement. I expect that Victoria University staff are too smart to fall for that old trick.”
The TEU has said of the new contracts, “this system is not transparent, fair or equitable and is very unlikely to benefit our members.”
Negotiations between the TEU and the university over an updated collective agreement will commence in May.