The Academic Staff Association of Wits University (Asawu) is preparing to go into annual wage negotiations with Wits management.

“The relationship between Asawu and Wits management became strained last year when negotiations stopped and management imposed a settlement on us,” said Asawu’s president Prof. David Dickinson, adding that there is a widespread perception among staff that management treats them with disdain and with a petty approach to their issues.

The dispute between the two parties last year was heightened by Asawu’s claims that management was denying them of their legal rights by withholding information, culminating in Asawu successfully taking Wits to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).

“Last year was quite a bruising year, and we hope management has learnt from their mistakes. However, as we go into wage negotiations this time, there is at least a commitment that has been reaffirmed by the university to benchmark salaries of academics,” Dickinson said.

Asawu said Wits salaries should be at the 75th percentile of the tertiary education sector – which means 75% of the average for the sect across all 23 higher learning institutions. “At the moment we’re well below the 75th percentile and this year we will be looking at a substantial, above-inflation increase for academics to help bring us to that 75 percent,” he said, adding that Wits has to pay their academics at a reasonable rate.

 “The reason it should be in the 75th percentile rather than the 50th, is because on average the cost of living in Joburg is higher and, more importantly, because we are one of the best universities in South Africa and we have to pay competitive wages in comparison to the key competitors – UCT, Rhodes and Stellenbosch. We have to compete for talent,” said Dickinson.

In a letter titled “A Change of Gear” that was sent to their members, Asawu called for a relationship of mutual respect between management and academics to be established.

“We don’t want to strike, we’re a professional union, we have more PHDs in our union than probably all the other unions combined in Gauteng, we’re a different breed,” said Dickinson adding that the vast majority of Asawu’s members were reluctant to see the disruption of education.

“But one thing we are very clear on is that if management refuses us information that we have a legal right to, we will go straight back to the CCMA,” he said.