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'We will fight for you': TEU succeeds in latest action against AUT's redundancy process

25 January, 2023

Interview by Jessica Hopkins, adapted by Georgi Stirling

Listen to the full interview

Image from Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Late last year, 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 huge 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 to take legal action against AUT. 

TEU organiser Jill Jones explained to Jessica from The Wire why they pursued legal action, and says that “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”.  She emphasises that the biggest problem was that AUT was targeting people rather than positions during its redundancy process.

With respect to the people they chose to make redundant, Jones added that “they [AUT] have gone through the staff and they have decided who hasn't done enough research or the type of research they want, or who has not done enough undergraduate teaching”.

She points out that basing the redundancies on these parameters was completely unfair, as some staff were heavily involved in postgraduate teaching which wasn’t accounted for. Additionally, in the case of researchers, “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 the collective agreement. Following a period of non-compliance, the TEU brought the issue to the Employment Court- who issued AUT a fine. Regarding the fine, Jones said “that was a significant warning not just to AUT, but to other employers that you know 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 thanks to the TE’s interventions, these notices are now invalid. As for what that means, Jones clarified that  “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 terms of what compensation for staff members, Jones maintains that she would like AUT to “acknowledge what they have done wrong and apologise for the harm they have caused to students and to staff”. She believes AUT should withdraw the redundancies altogether.

As for what the TEU has planned for 2023 for addressing staffing concerns in tertiary institutions across the country, Jones told The Wire that the union will be meeting on Friday. The advice they have given AUT staff is to just carry on as usual. She encourages those working in universities to join their union; “we will fight for you.”


Public interest journalism funded by New Zealand On Air