Organise and know your rights.

A TEU member and lecturer of nursing in the Whitireia School of Health shares the impact of moving to a permanent agreement and the importance of taking action to achieve security in tertiary education.

Working on a two year fixed-term agreement in the School of Health at Whitireia, I’ve worked hard to improve myself as an educator, to progress in my career and to be the the kind of teacher my students deserve.

I’ve completed an adult teaching mentorship programme offered at Whitireia, and gained a qualification in adult teaching and learning through the Open Polytechnic. I’ve improved my effectiveness as a tutor, and the learning experience of my students, but still I found myself faced with the uncertainty of working under a fixed-term agreement.

There has been a lot of uncertainty at my instiution and in my school. There’s been job consolidation with roles merging, staff leaving without being replaced and word of possible cuts to both staff numbers and programmes. In our team, there were significant changes. The workload was up, the backfill wasn’t there and we were having to take on additional responsibilities outside of the team and our immediate roles.

Adding to this uncertainty and insecurity, I have a young son who is in day-care. I’m a solo mum, I’m a homeowner and I have sole responsibility for my mortgage, among many other responsibilities outside of work.

Certainty around employment has always been important to me, but recently more so. My son begins school soon and I’ll need to make plans for when February comes so I can be sure the hours I work coincide with when he will be at school and so I can spend this time making sure my son has the best start to school possible.

Recently Daniel Benson-Guiu, TEU organiser, came to campus to speak with TEU members – to those of us who were on fixed-term agreements – about our own understanding of the security and permanence of our jobs. He encouraged us to discuss with one another the likelihood of our jobs and the programmes we worked within continuing into the next year. He suggested we each write a letter to the Chief Executive outlining why we believe our roles were in fact permanent positions and why our fixed-term status was unfair and unnecessary.

We sent the letters and asserted the confidence we have in ourselves and our positions. After much back-and-forth between myself, management, the Chief Executive and with support from TEU, myself and two other staff members on fixed-term agreements were offered permanent positions.

In terms of what securing a permanent position has meant for me, even though there is still a lot of uncertainty at Whitireia, I now have job security. I know that I have a continuing salary and I know I can support my son and my family. My parents aren’t working at the moment and they still have a mortgage, so I know that by supporting myself I reduce the risk of them one day having to support me if a fixed-term agreement is not renewed.

My son will have a Christmas that will be planned with a level of certainty and security. I will be able to take a holiday with him before school starts. I know with certainty that I will be free to support him in that exciting but difficult first week. I’ll be able to do all of this with the knowledge that I won’t be spending that time worrying about work, applying for a new job, or wondering where my next pay cheque is coming from.

I had no idea until that TEU meeting with Dan there were so many people at Whitireia, and at polytechs and universities across the country who were in the same boat as me, and who were just as uncertain about their futures as I was. It’s taught me the importance of advocacy, of being supported by people on the ground, of understanding the bigger picture, and of how insecurity impacts all of us, not just the individual.

If I hadn’t talked to Dan, if I hadn’t been part of the union, I wouldn’t have realised that I could have achieved as much as I did, and I would probably still be living with uncertainty on a fixed-term agreement. I don’t think I would have taken action by myself, but because of the support I received from colleagues, and actions that others have done on my behalf, I now have a permanent position and I can continue to work securely in my chosen career and support others to one day do the same.