I’m sure you have noticed Sonke workers pruning the bushes on the lawns and Supercare workers mopping the bathroom floors. But did you know that they are not allowed to use the spaces which they spend their time and energy keeping clean?
These workers are outsourced by Wits to companies. But should we care? Should students engage with issues like outsourced workers on campus?
Workers’ issues are about justice and equality, concepts that we explore during our academic life. Outsourced workers provide key services for this institution. Not much learning could take place without them. Yet how much do we know about workers or the conditions under which they work?
Outsourced workers are subject to a number of rules on campus. My concern is with the role that the university plays in enforcing such laws. Wits recently turned the Matrix basement into a locker and dining room for Outsourced workers. This means that they are not allowed to eat or store their belongings anywhere else, even if they work at bottom end of West campus.
PIMD is the university’s department responsible for dealing with outsourced workers. A senior manager at PIMD is under investigation for allegations of racism. Workers are understandably frustrated as this process began in early November. An investigation into allegations of racism against students and staff in 2009 was resolved within 3 months. Why is the university not applying the same level of urgency when outsourced workers are involved?
There are other concerns. For example, workers are not allowed to meet collectively on campus to discuss their grievances. They are told to meet at their official places of employment. For Supercare workers, that means going to Bryanston. They should be able to meet freely and collectively at their workplace.
Should it matter that workers are not paid directly by Wits? These rules come from both Wits and Outsourced companies. As students, can we sit by and watch this happen? By not raising our voices against this treatment of workers, are we complicit? If Wits is my university, then Wits is the university of the Workers. They should be treated as an integral part of the Wits community.
As a leading intellectual institution, I would have thought that Wits would lead by example.
As students, we should call for an end to outsourcing.
It is time we hold Wits accountable.