Wednesday, August 29, 2012

South Africa's University of Witwatersrand Support Staff Demand 9% Wage Hike

Wits support staff demand 9% wage hike

28 Aug 2012 19:41 - Bongani Nkosi
South African Mail & Guardian

Wits staff marched and picketed on campus, demanding a 9% salary increase, while university management are only offering 6.8%.

The 9% salary increase that support staff at Wits University are demanding is equivalent to a R250 hike for each worker, but the university’s management is only offering 6.8%.

This has emerged from the Wits branch of the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu), which represents most of support staff. Nehawu branch chairperson Richard Sadiki said management’s increase was equivalent to about R180 for each staff.

Wits' striking staff turned up the heat against management on Tuesday, when they organised pickets and marches in campuses.

But it was their rally, held outside the Great Hall that sent ripples across the main campus. Hundreds of staff members, including academic, administrative and support staff, gathered for the rally, which was characterised by song and dance and shouting from union leaders.

"It's a shame that when we ask for a little lousy R250, [management of] the university, this 90-year-old university, say they can't afford it," Sadiki told the crowd.

"R250 for each person is what we're demanding, but management [unilaterally] decided to give us 6.8% [increments]," he said.

Demanding increases

Wits management hiked salaries by 6.8% earlier in the year, and unions claim this was done unilaterally. Now management is proposing a further 2% increment for support staff next January, but Sadiki said an agreement has not been reached over this.

Members of the Cosatu-aligned Nehawu united with the Academic Staff Association of Wits University (Asawu) and Administrative, Library and Technical Staff Association (Altsa) in the mass action. This follows the strike on August 2.

"It doesn’t make sense that they are refusing to give [us] a lousy R250," Tebogo Thothela, president of the Wits outgoing Student Representative Council, told the crowd.

The three unions, representing staff across all spheres of operation at Wits, are all demanding salary increments for their members. Nehawu and Altsa are demanding 9% increases, while Asawu is demanding implementation of the "long-promised" 75th percentile of the Tertiary Education Sector benchmark for academics.

Asawu maintains implementation of the 10-year agreement would result in academics being paid at a higher scale. The union's president, Professor David Dickinson, told the media briefing that Wits' salaries were not competitive and this was to blame for the brain drain at the university.

Dickinson said Wits was losing academics to the University of Johannesburg and other universities across the country due to poor pay. "If we want to attract quality, we have to pay competitive salaries," he said.

Failed negotiations

The unions have vowed to refuse the 6.8% increase management has offered in negotiations, which are scheduled to resume on Wednesday. A round of negotiations on Monday ended without increased offers, unions said.

Asawu is demanding that management give auditing firm Grant Thornton access to the university’s finances. The union said it wanted this done to "verify management's argument that its salary offer is informed by [the university's] affordability and sustainability".

Also speaking at the rally, member of the outgoing SRC, Tokelo Nhlapo, canvassed for more attention on what he said was the unfair treatment of outsourced workers in Wits' campuses.

Nhlapo is also a member of the Wits Workers' Solidarity Committee, a forum comprising of students, lecturers and the outsourced workers. The forum is campaigning for absorption of the outsourced workers into Wits, as it believes their salaries and work conditions have not improved over the last decade. "Wits still practices apartheid … in the name of saving money," Nhlapo said.

Students gave varying accounts of how the strike on Tuesday affected classes. While some told the Mail & Guardian their classes went ahead as planned, others said theirs had been cancelled.

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