Strike action to continue at Wits

Wits workers march down Jorissen street in Braamfontein on Monday, January 29. Photo: Ntando Thukwana

The workers’ strike at Wits University is expected to continue tomorrow, January 30, following an impasse in negotiations between the institution’s management and unions.

After lengthy engagements that started over the weekend, unions and Wits management met today in a meeting facilitated by an independent commissioner where the institution’s latest offer was discussed. By the end of the day though, no agreement had been reached and as a result the strike is set to move into its seventh day, according to Nehawu chairperson for the Greater Johannesburg region, Columbus Ncuthe.

Acting secretary for Nehawu Wits, Tumisho Madihlaba, said that the university’s newest offer is 7% for grades 5 to 8, 7,8% for grades 9 to 15 and 9.2% for grades 16 and 17. Wits had previously offered an 8% increase for the grades 16 and 17 with 6,8% across all other grades.

Ncuthe, told Wits Vuvuzela that, “They (Wits) proposed that for the lowest paid (grades) they are giving them 9.2%. That’s what’s in discussion now, among other things,” Ncuthe said.

He added that the long service award in cash form and medical aid increases formed part of today’s discussion. “If the parties agree then we might summarily suspend the strike,” he said.

Sam Mangena, chairperson of Wits Nehawu, speaking to the workers, addressed the no work no pay approach that the university had applied for the duration of the strike. He told the striking workers that the matter was under discussion with management. The draft offer from Wits suggested that workers may be allowed to use their leave for the work days lost during the strike action.

“We don’t want your money to be deducted,” he told the workers assembled at Solomon Mahlangu House this afternoon.

Wits Communications officer Buhle Zuma told Wits Vuvuzela that the university had plans in place to deal with the disruptions on campus. “Some University activities were disrupted (taps were opened so that bathrooms were flooded), but contingency plans have been put in place … Classes start on Monday, 5 February 2018,” She said.

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Nehawu on strike at Wits University

Workers at Wits University hold a picket in the Solomon Mahlangu House concourse on Tuesday, January 23. Photo: Odwa Mjo

Wits University staff affiliated to the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) have embarked on a strike following a deadlock in salary negotiations with the institution on Tuesday, January 23. This follows two weeks of lunchtime pickets during which the union engaged university management over annual salary increases.

Wits Nehawu acting secretary and spokesperson for the Unions’ Caucus – the joint representative body for Nehawu, the Academic Staff Association of Wits University (Asawu), the Admin and Library Staff Association (Altsa) and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) at Wits – Tumisho Madihlaba, told about 500 Nehawu members during Tuesday’s picket that Wits management had only revised the offer for grades 16 to 17 to 8% while the offer of 6,8% for all other grades remained the same. “They are saying they do not have a mandate to renegotiate or review the offer,” Madihlaba added. Members of Nehawu at Wits include staff of the security and cleaning services, sport administration, libraries and bus drivers.

“Cost of living has not remained the same since December 2014 when we signed that multi-year agreement of 6%. But this university believes that the 6% of 2014, we will still survive on,” he said.

Wits library staffer, Pisto Marema, told Wits Vuvuzela that union members were demanding a wage of at least R12 000 a month. “We need 9%. At least that can take us somewhere. As we sit now, most of us can’t even afford to apply for a bond,” said Marema.

According to Madihlaba, Numsa and Asawu will be joining the strike as of today, January 24. A statement released earlier today by the office of the vice-chancellor, Prof Adam Habib, confirms that Numsa intends to strike and has given the university 48-hour notice of its intention to do so. Asawu is set to hold a Special General Meeting with its members on Friday, January 26.

With less than two weeks before the academic year kicks off, Madihlaba added that strike action will continue until the union’s demands are met “We are going to shut down this university and management will not believe it,” he said.

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