Nationwide strikes at New Zealand universities have been averted after managers and unions agreed on a plan to lobby the government for increased funding and to discuss restoration of national wage bargaining.
The two sides are to commission a "white paper" on the future shape of the workforce and what needs to be done to get there - including salary rates.
They will request tripartite meetings with education ministers on issues facing the universities, along similar lines to meetings in the health sector.
A working party to examine future options for employment agreements will also be convened. This will include a discussion of national bargaining, which the universities have refused to contemplate until now.
Judith Kinnear, Massey University's vice-chancellor, said that national wage bargaining could be to the universities' advantage, "particularly should this result in a university sector recognised by government and hence differentiated in financial terms from the large number of other organisations currently designated tertiary education organisations".
Staff unions, led by the Association of University Staff, have been campaigning since July last year for a return to national bargaining. They say pay rates in New Zealand's universities are at crisis point, creating severe recruitment problems, and a unified approach is needed to pressure the government for extra funds.
University staff are voting on whether to accept increases this year of between 3 and 4 per cent. The unions had called for 30 per cent over three years, saying it was needed to restore international parities.
Helen Kelly, AUS general secretary, said persuading the universities even to consider national bargaining was "an incredible breakthrough".