Workers sing and shout outside the Senate Room.

Workers sing and shout outside the Senate Room. Photo: Nomatter Ndebele

By Palesa Radebe and Mfuneko Toyana

Wits University’s support staff and unions picketed outside the Senate Room on Thursday afternoon demanding an end to the mistreatment of outsourced workers.

Congregating outside the room as academics and Wits administration officials entered, workers shouted  “Phantsi nge outsourcing Phantsi” (down with outsourcing).

The workers were gathered in their numbers to deliverer a memorandum to out-going Vice Chancellor Loyiso Nongxa.

In his address to the workers, Nongxa seemed to agree with the workers’ grievances. Speaking in isiXhosa, he began by saying: “We as black people, especially those of us from the rural areas, grew up being undermined and we continue to be mistreated. I apologise to all of you that have been treated unfairly”.

Nongxa spoke of his unhappiness at the fact that when workers had problems, they never spoke up for themselves, but always sent spokespeople to speak on their behalf. He said the practice should end and, to loud applause and whistles, that the workers should speak for themselves.

Nongxa finished by saying that: “whether you work for in-sourcing or you work for out-sourcing, you still work for Wits and that has not changed”.

“This should not end with you complaining, you have to make sure that you find a way forward and a resolution”, he added.

The memorandum distributed by the striking workers calls an end to outsourcing and  better treatment of support staff, who say they are paid low wages and are not even allowed to use the same toilets as students.

It also calls for full health, education and employment benefits, as well as job security.

Wits Workers Solidarity Committee, said they support the workers who came out to demand the end of outsourcing.

According to two cleaners who wished to remain anonymous, the picket was partly sparked by the workers inability to access the campus after their access cards were deactivated without their knowledge.