Union members have said that they are willing to strike if negotiations with Wits management continue to stall.
Workers have threatened to strike less than two weeks before the academic year is set to begin, following stalled negotiations for salary increases and improved working conditions.
At a joint union members meeting on Tuesday, January 22, at the Great Hall, workers were up in arms after discovering that the concessions made with Wits management were far below their expectations.
In attendance were academics, administrative staff and supporting staffs from the various unions, mainly Academic Staff Association of Wits University (Asawu), the Admin Library and Technical Staff Association, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa and the National Health, Education and Allied Workers Union.
The unions had met with management earlier in the day to discuss the demands of the workers but the negotiations remained deadlocked following a year of discussions between the concerned parties.
Workers were demanding a 9% increase across the board, but the University’s offer was 6.5% to 7% across different payment grades, according to Asawu president Anthony Stacey.
A professor at the Wits Business School, Stacey told Wits Vuvuzela that the concessions made by the university, which included the granting of 20 days paid leave for staff and a minimised taxation rate on staff’s 13th cheque, were not enough to satisfy the unions.
“We’ve got agreements on a few things. We’ve worked very hard in the last two months to get a working relationship.
“I’m afraid the last few days I’m less optimistic though. Now we’re starting to talk hard numbers, hard details and the collaboration from management doesn’t seem to be coming through,” Stacey said.
Several proposals have been made by both the labour unions and representatives of the University’s management in regards to 2019 salary increases, benefits and other terms and conditions of employment.
“The parties continue to negotiate in good faith with a view towards reaching amicable resolutions on the outstanding issues. As a result of the ongoing negotiations, salary adjustments for January 2019 will not be implemented, except for employees on Grades 16 and 17 where an agreement was reached in 2018,” read a joint statement released by the Bargaining Forum on Wednesday, January 23.
Altsa president Ricardo Sao Joao says that a strike could happen if there is no agreement with management.
“At this point in time, I would say a strike is very likely based on the mandate we just received. I think that the general consensus is that staff are tired in many ways of being misused and abused and, ultimately, want to share in the wealth of the university,” he told Wits Vuvuzela.
Stacey, who is one of the union negotiators, was sceptical about the progress of the negotiations thus far and affirmed that the workers would be united if the call to strike was made by the majority.
“We are happy about the fact that we got agreement on a few of the issues but they are very minor. They are not substantive. I think there’s a wide variety of opinions amongst the union membership. So I think our job as leadership is to see how much progress we can make. However, if it needs to go to a power struggle, we’ll have to lead them.”
Other worker demands include bursaries for staff to study, increased night shift allowances, a R1200 housing subsidy and medical aid support. Negotiations continue.
FEATURED IMAGE: Union members congregate outside Great Hall to discuss progress of salary negotiations Photo: Tshego Mokgabudi
The two aggrieved Wits staff unions do not need to embark on an indefinite strike, says Administration, Library and Technical Staff Association (Altsa) president Adele Underhay.
Underhay met with Altsa members on Wednesday to update them on negotiations with Wits management. Altsa signed the 2012 wage agreement the day before the second union strike in August. This left the Academic Staff Association of Wits University (Asawu), and the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) deadlocked with management.
“We felt that management came back and they had moved considerably on a lot of issues,” Underhay said.
The three unions jointly declared a dispute with management in May over a range of grievances, most notably salary increases.
On the morning of the second strike, some Altsa members expressed disappointment with union leadership for “breaking ranks”.
Underhay said she tried to be reasonable, although her point of view may be shifting.
“We need to get new blood into the negotiating team … maybe I’m not seeing things clearly anymore, maybe I’ve been in it too long.”
Asawu gave its members the option to vote for an indefinite strike as a way forward but they chose to boycott administrative meetings. It also considered suspending the strike until next year, when there will be new members of senior management.
“It is clear that the current management plans to talk itself out of office and make the problem that of the next administration. The unions have now run through the entire Wits senior leadership and it is clear that there is nobody with whom negotiations can reasonably take place,” the Wits Joint Union spokesperson said.
Prof Rob Moore, deputy vice-chancellor: advancement and partnerships, said management was committed to resolving the dispute “as quickly as possible”, and was grateful that strikes had not caused further disruption of academic activities.
Published in Wits Vuvuzela 25th edition, 21st September 2012
Wits Administration, Library and Technical Staff Association (ALTSA) leadership accepted the terms offered by Wits management after last-minute negotiations last night but failed to inform some of their members of this decision. This left the Academic Staff Association of Wits University (ASAWU) and the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU) to strike by themselves today August 28 against Wits management.
This morning confused ALTSA members arrived at the picketing lines, unaware that their leaders had accepted an agreement with Wits management the night before. Some were confused and frustrated when they found out.
This is the second strike by the academic unions this month. They are demanding an increase in salaries for workers, an agreement to structure salaries around the 75th percentile, resolve issues with parking and provide a childcare facility for workers among other issues.
Ian Walters, and ALTSA member and an administrator in the Wits School of Arts, was unaware that ALTSA had backed out of the strike, and only found out when he arrived at campus in the morning.
“I’m staying on strike because I’m in support of NEHAWU and ASAWU. That was the original idea,” said Walters.
Adele Underhay, the president of ALTSA, was unavailable for comment, and some members of the union also couldn’t reach her.
David Dickinson, president of ASAWU said it was regrettable that ALTSA leaders had chosen to break ranks. “I respect the independence as a union and the decision of their leadership is what they must account for to their membership” Dickinson said.
Negotiations between the Wits Executive Council and ASAWU, ALTSA and NEHAWU was re-opened a day before the strike. Photo by Jay Caboz
The Wits Senate (the academic leadership forum) made a call to halt the striking unions “without further delay”. Photo by Jay Caboz
Fellow ALTSA members expressed their disappointment in their leadership’s acceptance of management’s offers. Barbie Pickering from the finance faculty said she didn’t know about their union pulling out at the eleventh hour and they only received the e-mail this morning.
“We went into this thing to support all the unions. We are not happy with our union leadership on that,” said Pickering.
The rally, which started at noon, had speakers that reiterated the unions’ demands. Carl Beaumont, an ASAWU member, congratulated the ALTSA members who turned up at the rally while fellow strikers applauded the group.
The Student Representation Council and the Wits Workers Solidarity Committee again pledged their support for the striking unions.
The final word from Beaumont was that the unions are prepared to strike again if their demands are not properly discussed and considered during negotiations. firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com
Two of the three Wits unions will strike tomorrow August 28, after they declined management’s offer in negotiations.
Last-minute talks were held between unions and management on Monday afternoon to try and prevent a second one-day strike. The Academic Staff Association of Wits University (ASAWU), the Administration, Library and Technical Staff Association (ALTSA) and the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU), jointly declared a dispute in May over a range of grievances including salary increases and insufficient parking.
In talks which ended around 5pm on Monday, management proposed (among others): a shift from the July-to-June pay cycle to a January-to-December pay cycle (to create a salary increase in January 2013), negotiations for next year’s salaries to begin next week, a written understanding of the 75th percentile salary benchmark, and a commitment to resolving non-salary issues by year end.
Joint union spokesperson Kezia Lewins said there was “insufficient movement” towards a resolution by 5pm, the time it had been agreed that negotiations would end.
“Given that no agreement could be concluded and management’s disinclination to continue with the negotiation process, the planned strike will go ahead,” Lewins said.
Lewins said management threatened to withdraw all the offers if Tuesday’s strike went ahead.
Dr Kgomotso Kasonkola, senior director of Human Resources, said only ALTSA accepted these proposals.
“It is regrettable that ASAWU and NEHAWU have rejected these offers without explanation or counter-offers, and have announced their intention to continue their strike action tomorrow,” Kasonkola said.
“Upon stating that they would be reporting back to their principals, Professor Ballim (Deputy Vice Chancellor Academic) told the unions “off you go!” Lewins said. According to a tweet from ASAWU (witsjointaction), the vice-Chancellor Loyiso Nongxawas not present during the negotiations.
How Wits stacks up against other academic institutions
The Human Resources department conducted a comparative salary analysis to show how Wits’ range of salaries compares with other research-intensive institutions.
According to the findings, a Wits lecturer earns between R393 900 and R590 850 per annum, while a University of Cape Town (UCT) lecturer earns a maximum of R427 311.
Kasonkola said these values do not show the full salary packages at institutions, but Wits is currently a “market leader” in academic salaries.
Also, the 7.55% and 6.8% increases granted to academic and support staff respectively were above the Consumer Price Index (CPI), pegged at 4.9% in July.
Management re-invited the three unions to the negotiating table over the weekend, nearly a month since their first strike on August 2.
The Wits Senate (the academic leadership forum) had called on the Wits Council to resolve the dispute “without further delay”.
Union members intend to picket at major entrances to Wits in the morning, and hold a rally on the steps of the Great Hall at noon.
There has been no resolution to the dispute between Wits management and unions, and the Academic and Support Staff Association of Wits University (ASAWU) has announced another one-day strike.
Last minute negotiations between management and the Academic and Support Staff Association of Wits University (ASAWU), National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU) and the Administration, Library and Technical Staff Association (ALTSA), to prevent the one-day strike on August 2 failed.
ASAWU members will also boycott admin meetings and performance management from August 20, in addition to the withdrawal of services on August 28.
In a meeting on Tuesday August 14, members were given ballots to vote for additional action, with an indefinite strike being one of their options.
The unions had demanded a signed agreement to their demands, but “chose to walk out of the mediation process before it was concluded”, according to vice chancellor Professor Loyiso Nongxa. ASAWU President David Dickinson denied this, saying Nongxa was not present at the negotiation sessions.
The unions are demanding a 9% salary increase for support staff and payment to academics at the 75th percentile of the tertiary education sector. They also demand the establishment of a childcare facility for Wits employees, an end to overselling of parking permits in non-designated parking areas and access by their auditors to the university’s financial system.
Academic and support staff picket outside the Yale Road entrance to Wits during their initial one-day strike. Photo: Jay Caboz.
Union decries silent treatment
Dickinson said they were met with silence after the strike.
“The first communication of any kind from management is the letter sent out today [August 13] by the vice chancellor to all Wits employees. This message fails to engage with the issues raised by the three unions and their members. It is a slap in the face of Wits lecturers and support staff.”
Nongxa said management did not have a mandate from the Wits council to grant the 9% increase, but proposed a shift from the July-to-June pay cycle to a January-to-December pay cycle. Staff could get a pay rise in January 2013 together with the increase received in July.
Nongxa said the proposals made by management were realistic and asked for “similarly constructive responses” from the unions.
“In the current context of declining state subsidies, the cost of higher-than-average salary increases may have to be carried by already heavily-burdened student fees.”
ASAWU seeking solidarity
ALTSA and NEHAWU are consulting with their members on further action. Dickinson said he hoped they joined ASAWU’s strike and boycotts.
During the previuos strike, Nongxa said the university could not be coerced into meeting the unions’ “unsustainable” demands.
“One would have assumed that, in an environment where we think about these things, that you can come with reasoned solutions to these problems, rather than resorting to a strike.”
Wits academics and support staff marched around Braamfontein yesterday to protest against university management not granting their demands for wage and non-wage related matters.
The unions are demanding a 9% salary increase for support staff, a resolution of the dispute on shift allowances, an agreement on sliding scales to advance equity, the establishment of a childcare facility for Wits employees, an end to overselling of parking permits in non-designated parking areas and an increase in individual research incentives.
Members of Academic Staff Association of Wits University (ASAWU), the Administration, Library and Technical Staff Association (ALTSA) and the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU) gathered at the Yale road entrance at 12:30 pm, close to Jorrisen Street. David Dickinson, president of ASAWU, addressed the crowd and told them that it was to be a peaceful march.
Sea of colour
The staff members were wearing academic gowns red and blue t-shirts to represent their unions. “The protesters held placards and badges that stated “Do not push us over the edge”. The crowd held up yellow pieces of papers as a gesture of warning to management. Some protesters told Vuvuzela they were giving management a yellow card and should they not listen to their demands they will follow up with a red card.
Metro police and campus control officers were present throughout the march. Michael Mahada, investigations manager of campus control said, “We have some of our own parking and campus control officers to help with the crowd, but we have called in The SAPS and the JMPD to help us as we are leaving campus because campus control has no jurisdiction out there”.
Some SRC members were also part of the march. Tebogo Thothela, SRC president said, “The SRC is here in solidarity with the protesters, we are behind the principles of free dispute and decent wages that are on the correct level.” Thothela went on to say that the salary increase should not equal to a university fee increase.
Both sides of the story
A worker at the march who did not want to be named said, “They have deposited 6.5% into our accounts but we want 9%. The university says it is world class but can’t give us decent salaries”.
A statement handed out by management at the march stated the university respects the rights of the staff to protest as long as it did not disrupt the services of the institution. It concluded that the university will negotiate salaries as long as they are affordable, sustainable and aligned to performance management.
There will be a one-day protest strike on 2 August in which staff will withdraw their services if these issues are not resolved.
Wits academic and support staff unions have planned a rally through Braamfontein on July 19 and a one-day strike next month over long-standing grievances with Wits management.
The three unions jointly declared a dispute after annual wage negotiations faltered last month. Management announced a 7.25% increase for academic staff (Grades 5-9). But the Administration, Library and Technical Staff Association (ALTSA) and the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU) have demanded a 9%increase.
They received a certificate of dispute from the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), which provides legal protection for protest and strike action.
The two unions, along with the Academic Staff Association of Wits University (ASAWU), also made non-wage related demands in a memorandum to management, including a child care facility for Wits employees.
The unions began their protest action with a picket on Jorissen Street outside Senate House in June, coinciding with a scheduled meeting of the Wits Council. About 150 staff members lined the entrance of the basement parking in freezing weather, calling for support as Council officials and members of the public arrived.
Catherine Dryden, a librarian, told Vuvuzela that she has worked at Wits for over 20 years and earns less than R20,000.
“With my experience and my qualifications, I think it’s an absolute disgrace, and I think if I were a member of Council, I would hang my head in shame”, she said.
Deputy vice chancellor of finance and operations, Prof Patrick FitzGerald, said the university provides extensive information about its financial sustainability during negotiations. Last year, ASAWU’s proposed salary increase would have cost the university around R60m to implement.
“Enough is enough”.
According to the unions, this is the third year they have been in dispute with management. Advocate Liz Picarra, an executive committee member of ASAWU, said “enough is enough”.
“We care about this university, we are this university, and unless they start engaging with us, we are actually doing our students and the entire university community a disservice”, she said.
Nomasonto Baloyi, a data administrator at the Wits Arts Museum, said she has not moved to a job that could pay better because of the experience and benefits Wits offers.
ASAWU president David Dickinson asked Sakumzi Macozoma, Wits Council chair, for his views on the picket as he drove in. He responded, “I hope you’ve told them that we’re speaking to you, have you?”
Wits Council chair, Sakumzi Macozoma (left) in conversation with ASAWU president David Dickinson (right).
Wits Communications manager, Shirona Patel, said management may not respond directly to the memorandum, but will continue with talks until next week.
Staff unions at Wits have declared a dispute with management after negotiations faltered last week.
Unions and management have been in negotiations since management announced inflation-linked salary increases last month.
Management announced a 7.25% increase across the board for academic staff (Grades 5-9), a 6.5% increase for support staff (Grades 5-17) and a 6.5% “adjustment to Campus Control allowances”.
Prof Patrick FitzGerald, deputy vice chancellor of finance and operations, said the negotiations were intended to reach a settlement but some unions took positions which made it “very difficult”.
Adele Underhay, president of the Administration, Library and Technical Staff Association (ALTSA), said unions rejected the offer based on their members’ mandate.
“I think we all realise that it doesn’t help that we push management and they can’t afford to give us an increase,” said Underhay.
Underhay said although the increases are in line with the inflation rate, predictions for inflation are much higher and staff, especially in the lower grades, complained about the increasing cost of living.
“What could happen in regard to the inflation rate in the future is obviously out of our hands,” said Fitzgerald.
Industrial action as last resort
The unions will approach the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) and appear before a commissioner who will hear both sides and could grant them a certificate for industrial action.
“It’s bad for everyone but if that’s what it’s going to take, our members have said that that’s what they’ll do,” said Underhay.
The unions proposed that non-union members should not receive any further increase that is negotiated as they would benefit unfairly.
Together, the National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU) and ALTSA represent 48% of around 2300 support staff. The Academic Staff Association of Wits University (ASAWU) represents at least 50% of staff.
Last year, management rejected ASAWU’s proposed salary increase, which would have cost the university around R60m to implement.
Published in Wits Vuvuzela 14th edition, 18th May 2012
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