Organising for secure work.

With too many TEU members on insecure employment agreements, and many tertiary employers pressuring for less secure work, it’s important both academic and general staff alike are aware of their employment status, and feel confident challenging both the legitimacy and fairness of their fixed-term agreements.

Unfortunately, too many staff in our universities, wānanga and ITPs are unaware of their rights, or don’t feel they can raise issues of insecurity with their employer.

Workshops are an important means of ensuring tertiary education staff know their rights, know they are not alone, and that awareness is raised concerning the impact of insecure work on the wellbeing of working people and their families.

TEU Massey University organiser Heather Warren has been engaged in conversations with a number of emerging academics working under fixed-term agreements and has been running workshops across the three Massey campuses. The workshops provide a space to discuss career progression and the legal rights of those working people on fixed-term appointments, but they also provide an opportunity for staff to connect with colleagues and work collectively toward ensuring decent jobs for everyone. As Heather found:

“I think what is really valuable for people going to the workshops is that it gives them the opportunity to network with other people in a similar situation to them. I think it emboldens people to feel like they can have out-loud conversations about their employment that they might not have had before. It’s a good opportunity for them to not feel as isolated as they thought they were”.

Discussing the issues faced by working people on insecure appointments, whether they be on casual, hourly, or fixed-term agreements creates a greater understanding of the issue among the wider tertiary education workforce.

“What has also been really positive about some of our meetings is that members of staff who are employed on a permanent agreement have also come to lend their voice and that of their peers and colleagues, because they see insecure work as something that affects all workers and the institution as a whole. So, they feel invested in the issue as well, as they know that everyone deserves decent jobs”.

TEU Otago University organiser Phil Edwards agrees that increasing everyone's understanding of their rights if on an insecure appointment, and of the impact of uncertainty is key to ensuring there can be positive change across the sector,

“It’s extremely important that the wider tertiary education sector is aware of the issues faced by working people who have insecure appointments. People often don’t want to rock the boat, because they want to know that the next fixed-term agreement will roll around, so they will often put up with feeling unable to speak up. If people feel they can’t ask for help then it solidifies their position, it holds them back. If we are able to highlight some of the issues they face, then we will have a lot more success in making them permanent and ensuring they are valued.”

According to Heather, the issue is about the wellbeing of working people and their families, but also about respectful relationships which can only serve to benefit the sector as whole.

“When you’re in an employment relationship, both parties need to feel respected and valued. There shouldn’t be the anxiety experienced by so many people with insecure agreements because they want their employer to notice them being a great employee, and therefore do as much as they can outside their contracted hours to be recognised as such, often to their detriment. We all know the terms and conditions of staff are the learning conditions of students, so we need to ensure people are secure in their work and feel confident about their ongoing employment”.