AUT students are taking to social media to express their frustration with a strike that's delaying the release of crucial final grades.

Tertiary Education Union members - who make up about 70 per cent of AUT's academic staff - have refused to upload students' grades onto the university's online database Arion due to a pay dispute.

In an open letter posted to AUT's Facebook page, second year communications student Jazmin Cullen wrote that "students do not deserve to be punished because of a disagreement with your employer".

"We, as fee paying students, do not feel that we "deserve" to be given our grades, but we see it as our right. We have chosen to go to AUT to continue our education. We chose you because we agreed with your ways of teaching, we agreed with the opportunities that would arise from studying at AUT.


"However, we did not choose to become pawns in your employment issues. Withholding students' grades that define our future is wrong.

"Think of your students who are waiting to see if they can graduate, get a job, get into their chosen major, cross credit, do an exchange..."

So far, the post has received over 2,600 likes. Many AUT students have complained that a delay in the release of final grades could mean some graduates may not be able to register for their chosen professions in time.

The strike was announced after a collective agreement covering 600 TEU members expired and renegotiations for a new two-year agreement failed.

The TEU is seeking a pay increase of 2.5 per cent for each of the next two years, while AUT has offered an increase of 1.3 per cent increase next year and 1.5 per cent increase in 2017.

Pay at AUT and at all New Zealand universities was falling behind comparable private sector salary increases, the TEU's national industrial officer Irena Brorens said in a release today.

"AUT is in a financial position where it can afford better pay for the people who work for its students."

While the strike directly affects students, people working in universities were "very reluctant to take any action that affects our students", she said.

"It is entirely possible for the university to settle this agreement before any student is affected. This is what we want to achieve."

Open letter to AUT protesters/strikers/grade with holders. I, on behalf of the numerous students I have spoken to,...

Posted by Jazmin Cullen on Sunday, November 15, 2015

Nic Scriven, AUT's acting head of communications, said today that the university was in the process of notifying students about the strike.

On the comments of the open letter, students expressed their frustration that they had heard about the strike through the media, rather than from AUT staff.

"To find out through my Facebook feed by the NZ Herald before the university annoys me a little," wrote one student.

The strike notice was valid for a week, until November 22, but TEU members may decide on further actions if a resolution is not reached.

"Our collective agreement expired in June and we have been negotiating for fairer pay with AUT since then. We need to resolve this quickly," said John Prince, TEU branch president at AUT.

Negotiations with AUT had reached an "absolute block" in the last month, which led to industrial action, said Caril Cowan, TEU member and programme leader in the AUT School of Public Health and Psychosocial Studies.

"I think AUT is irresponsible not to care enough for the academic staff that they need us to take this action before they will negotiate honestly and in good spirit," she said. "They are sending different people to the negotiations, thus making agreement challenging."

AUT were also attempting to force staff to take leave, with a close-down period over the Christmas break which would see academics locked out of their offices for two or three weeks, she said.

While she could understand the frustrations of students waiting for their final grades, Ms Cowan said it saddened her, as students would "need this understanding as employees" - particularly those training as teachers and nurses.

"They need to know that if you're on individual contract, you're actually very weak," she said. "My background is nursing and when I started nursing it was considered a charity and it took a long time before we started saying 'actually nurses do really valuable, challenging and important work'.

"That happened because of collective industrial action and people just forget that."
Staff members on strike were marking students work and had their results, she said.
"The only thing we're not doing is putting it into the database. Then it becomes AUT's responsibility to do their work of getting it into the database, which is highly inconveniencing.

TEU members met today and further negotiations are due to take place on Thursday. With graduation set for December 15 to 17, there is a chance that withholding grades could affect students further - but it was up to the university now, Ms Cowan said.
"I think AUT has got a problem and they have to work out how it is not going to affect graduation."

AUT informed students of the strike and the possibility their grades may be delayed by email this afternoon.