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'We will fight for you': Tertiary Union succeeds in action against AUT's redundancy process

25 January, 2023

Interview by Jessica Hopkins, adapted by Georgi Stirling

Photo: Auckland University of Technology.

Listen to the full interview

Late last year, the Auckland University of Technology (AUT) announced 230 redundancies, citing the need to cut costs despite making a $12 million surplus in 2020 and 2021.

The consequences of this decision had a significant impact on both staff and students, as the downstream effects resulted in issues such as courses being cancelled only months before they were due to start and postgraduate students losing their supervisors prior to completion, prompting the Tertiary Education Union (TEU) to take legal action against AUT.

TEU organiser Jill Jones told 95bFM's The Wire that AUT targeted people rather than positions during its redundancy process.

“The TEU didn't accept that the redundancies at AUT were necessary or justified. In carrying out the redundancies, AUT didn't abide by the collective agreement”. 

Jones added that AUT had gone through their staff and decided who had not done enough research, the type of research they wanted, or who had not done enough undergraduate teaching.

She said basing the redundancies on these parameters was "completely unfair", as some staff were heavily involved in postgraduate teaching, which wasn’t accounted for. 

“They counted the COVID period as well when of course, a lot of people were not able to do enough research, so that was grossly unfair.”

The TEU has previously taken the matter to the Employment Relations Authority, who ordered AUT to abide by their collective agreement with staff. 

Following a period of non-compliance, the TEU brought the issue to the Employment Court, which issued AUT a fine. 

“That was a significant warning not just to AUT but to other employers that you have to respect collective agreements”. 

The termination notices that AUT had given their staff back in 2022 were originally due to take effect on the 1st of February. However, these notices are now invalid due to the TEU’s interventions. 

“AUT has to go back, follow the collective agreement and identify the positions, not the people, who are potentially surplus. Then it must invite those people to apply for voluntary redundancy, and only then can they issue termination notices”. 

In the meantime, the TEU has advised AUT staff to carry on as usual. 

In terms of compensation for staff members, Jones maintained that she would like AUT to “acknowledge what they have done wrong and apologise for the harm they have caused to students and staff”. 

She believes AUT should withdraw the redundancies altogether.

As for what the TEU has planned for 2023 to address staffing concerns in tertiary institutions nationwide, Jones told The Wire that the union encourages those working at universities to join their union.

"We will fight for you.”

Public interest journalism funded by NZ On Air