The school council wants a universal rate whether tutors are PMA recipients or not.

CORRECTION (16.08.2019): This story originally said that PMA tutors were paid their stipends in addition to R120 per hour for tutoring. The tutors are paid R120 per hour from their stipends. This has been corrected in the copy below. 

The Wits School of Physics Council is in discussion with the head of school, Prof Deena Naidoo, about claims of alleged exploitative pay rates for tutors.

The council says tutors at the school are paid R85 per hour for six hours a week, and claims this is not enough for a just, living wage. They also say there is a discrepancy between tutors who are recipients of the Postgraduate Merit Award (PMA) and those who are not. PMA tutors are paid R120 per hour for six hours a week in a seven week block, amounting to a total of R4 860 per term. This is in addition to their fees being covered by the award. 

Raees Noorbhai, the chairperson of the physics council, says the total amount paid to tutors not on PMA is R3 500 for seven weeks for the same work performed.

In a statement released by the council on July 25, Noorbhai wrote: “For too long postgraduate students working for institutions of higher learning have been systemically underpaid and exploited, despite the fact that these qualified workers are indispensable to the functioning of the university and to the project of teaching and learning.”

The council called a mass meeting on July 29 to address this “unequal pay of tutors”, and the fact that tutors were not paid for the first six months of the year. They were only paid at the beginning of the second semester.

In a meeting with Prof Naidoo on July 30, the council proposed a uniform rate of R120 per hour, whether tutors are PMA recipients or not, and an additional R80 for preparation, marking, and uploading marks onto the online system. They expect to hear back from him on August 26.

“We hope that Professor Naidoo recognises the urgency of addressing the situation and does not allow exploitation and an unjust status quo to be perpetuated under his term as head of school,” Noorbhai told Wits Vuvuzela.

According to the Research Office, the university minimum hourly rate for student assistants is dependent on qualification. Effective from January 1, 2019, tutors who are third-year students are paid R59, honours students, R68, masters students, R81 and PhD students, R95.

The physics council says in the faculty of sciences, tutors in the school of computer sciences and applied mathematics are the best paid. Third-year students are paid R95, honours students, R115, masters students, R135 and PhD students, R175. The worst paid are tutors in the school of chemistry, with their honours students being paid R70 per hour.

Dennis Jimu, an honours student who tutors engineering mathematics to first-year students, told Wits Vuvuzela, “This year I am doing my final year and the rates are R100 per hour.”

Noorbhai said, “We hope that the mass meeting held is the beginning of a process that sees a just, living wage being paid to all tutors across the university.

Wits Vuvuzela reached out to Prof Naidoo via email and in person in July. He would not allow the newspaper’s reporter to record the interview, saying, “This is not an interview, it is a discussion.” He added that he trusted that she would “make the right decision” whether to write the article or not.

When informed this week that the article would be published without his input, he responded, by email, that: “This is very surprising in the context, as you are aware there has been an open discussion with members of the Wits Physics Student Council regarding the above subject and other related activities – maybe you should consult them whether such an article should be produced…I see this article as having the potential of derailing progress as noted above.”

FEATURED IMAGE: The poster advertising the physics school mass meeting on July 29.