Strike looms as Wits workers reject 6.5% salary increase

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.

 Union members congregate outside Great Hall to discuss progress of salary negotiations Photo: Tshego Mokgabudi


Wits Vuvuzela,Unions at odds with Wits management over post-strike agreement, July 28, 2018

Wits Vuvuzela, Strike action to continue at Wits, Jan 29, 2018

Wits Vuvuzela, Wits strike ends,  Jan 31, 2018

Wits professor investigated for talking

A WITS university professor is facing removal from the University Council, Wits’ highest decision-making body, for his reports on meetings, after the body’s executive accused him of “misrepresenting discussions at council” and “creating a misleading impression”.

The chair of the University Council, Randall Carollisen, announced in an email that there would be an investigation against Prof David Dickinson, who is an elected academic representative on the council. Dickinson had been sending regular reports to staff members about matters discussed in council, the most recent of which was on insourcing of workers and a decision to give bonuses to executive members of staff.

The executive bonuses could amount to as much as R3-million. This decision has been contested by both academics and Student Representative Council (SRC) members.
It was after Dickinson’s report about these bonuses and insourcing, that the council decided to establish an inquiry that would look into Dickinson’s conduct.
“It has been a problem for some time that Professor Dickinson either misrepresents discussions at Council or provides selective information that creates a misleading impression,” said Carollisen in a statement announcing the investigation.

Academic Staff Association of Wits University (Asawu) president David Hornsby said that there was a “collective concern” about the founding of the committee which permits an investigation and the potential removal of Dickinson from his office because of what he was sharing in his reports.
Hornsby also added that Dickinson had entered a written agreement regarding his communications and how they would be corrected of mistakes. Asawu believes that there has been no action warranting his potential removal.

Hornsby raised his concerns about what an investigation into Dickinson meant for transparency, academic freedom and the right of the academic community to know what happens in the governance of Wits. “It is really not acceptable to argue in a publicly-funded university, an institution where academics play an important role in governance on non-confidential matters, that there cannot be report backs,” he said. When reached for comment by Wits Vuvuzela, Carollisen declined to comment further about Dickinson’s potential removal from the council.
“Any speculation about Prof Dickinson’s future relationship with the council will be inappropriate at this stage,” he said.

It is not clear yet when the committee will start its meetings but Carollisen said that the committee would meet under the leadership of the deputy chair and would advise once they have completed their task.

Carollisen told Wits Vuvuzela that the University Council has “reaffirmed” executive bonuses as “variable pay” which would be allocated based on the executive members’ performance against both institutional and personal scorecards. If they qualify, they’ll receive variable pay on top of their guaranteed packages.  He said this is necessary to make executive compensation competitive with other universities and the private sector.


Wits considering paying execs up to R3-mn in bonuses , April 29, 2016

Wits execs ‘earn less than average’ , May 7, 2016

Academics lend a hand to the #Access campaign

The Academic Staff Association of Wits University (Asawu) has donated R100 000 to the #Access campaign, which aims to raise R10 million by the end of February for students they classify as the “missing middle.”


#DOUBLEUP WITH FUNDING: ASAWU has donated money to the SRC’s #Access campaign which helps secure funding for students they deem as the “missing middle”. More than 87% of union members who voted agreed to donating the money.                      Photo: Zimasa Mpemnyama


The academic trade union held a poll among its members to ascertain whether the donation should happen or not, and over 87% of those who voted agreed to the donation.

#Access is a campaign organised by the Student Representative Council’s (SRC) to help students in the “missing middle” who cannot afford fees but are not poor enough to qualify for National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), “We are excited and pleased to support this initiative”

“The funds will be used to address funding shortfalls and the clearing of existing debt for students seeking to return to Wits,” Asawu said in a statement.

The union has over 750 members of whom, approximately 280 participated in the poll.

“The money will come from the Asawu reserves. Which is money that we have saved over the years in order to support strategic priorities or legal fees of members,” said David Hornsby, the president of Asawu and International Relations senior lecturer.

Hornsby also said, “We are excited and pleased to support this initiative”.

The SRC’s #Access campaign is part of the student formation’s humanitarian fund and it received a R2-million donation from one of South Africa’s largest banks, Nedbank, on the day it was launched.

Along with the proceeds from the O-week beer garden, the SRC organised a flea market, a raffle, a “Fill Up The Jar” campaign and has a donation portal on the Wits University website to raise funds for the campaign.

The campaign happens against the backdrop of continuing protests from many of the country’s university campuses for free education.

“This really underscores the commitment that Wits academics maintain for improving accessibility to those in need and how we collectively recognise the importance of higher education to the development aspirations of South Africa,” Hornsby said.

Wits academics affirm right to protest in response to threat of action

HIRED FORCE: The university hired private security in riot gear to evict protesting FeesMustFall students. Photo: Michelle Gumede

HIRED FORCE: The university hired private security in riot gear to evict protesting FeesMustFall students. Photo: Michelle Gumede

by Masego Panyane and Michelle Gumede

Academics have responded strongly to the statement issued by Wits stating that they should respect security protocols as laid out by private security companies or risk facing the chop.

Last week Wits issued a statement to staff members warning them about violating “security protocols” related to fees protests with possible termination.

“Some staff members have also tried to breach security protocols. We want to remind staff that the decision to bring additional security onto campus is an executive decision and that any member of staff who violates the University’s security protocols will be jeopardising the safety and security of our campus and thereby violating their own conditions of service,” read the statement.

The Academic Staff Association of Wits University (Asawu) released a statement saying academics are allowed to protest but “this right to protest is not, however, unfettered.” The conditions are stipulated by the Regulation of Gatherings Act.

According to the statement, protests no larger than 15 people do not require prior permission while those with 16 or more participants do require it. However, an exception to this rule can be made for “spontaneous protest”.

“Its very spontaneity is a defense against liability for failing to give prior notice and seeking prior permission,” reads the statement.


The union has also shown displeasure at the amount of security personnel on campus that has been called in to stop the  protesting students. It highlights in its statement that some institutions received orders from the government to increase the security on its campuses during this registration period. Asawu says it is concerned  by the apparent interference of the government in tertiary institutions and that this threatens autonomy and academic freedom of universities.

Asawu has called for patience and understanding of its members and students during this time saying: “Patience, understanding and tolerance is going to be required as will our unstinting commitment to non-violence, academic freedom and the autonomy of our institution as we work together as academics, students and broader society to realize our shared vision of access to free education.”

Asawu’s statement also follows an open letter sent to academics by  Vice Chancellor Adam Habib that he wrote to the academic staff who have complained about the use of private security in response to fees protests this month.

“The current strategy of shutting down the university is, in our view, detrimental to the task of building a transformed and academically excellent institution,” wrote Habib.

The open letter addresses issues such as the consequences of postponement of registration, protecting the rights of all and what Habib said was “complacency” of some regarding violence or the threat of it within protests.

“I will never remain silent and allow a culture of violence and ungovernability to prevail within an institution of learning. I will never remain silent when a university and its learning project is being sacrificed to broader political goals, however attractive they may be,” Habib wrote in the letter.

The Anthropology Department’s Dr Kelly Gillespie was a part of a group of academics who took to Facebook to voice their displeasure, accusing the university of “very good at spinning image” while bringing heavy-handed security guards onto campus.

“As far as we know, never in the history of the university has this type of securitisation been used on campus. Even during the darkest days of the apartheid regime, the university was maintained as a space for the free expression of protest, ideas and critique. Habib thus goes down in history as the VC to bring down this kind of disproportionate repressive security detail onto the space of our campus. Nothing he says can take that fact away. No amount of resuscitation of his anti-apartheid history will obscure it. It will always mark his history at Wits,” Gillespie wrote.






Academics critical of Wits in a survey

WITS university management have welcomed the recent survey featuring academic staff concerns of governance and salaries at the university.

The survey titled Whither Wits? was commissioned by the Academic Staff Association at Wits University (Asawu) and features 400 academic staff who voiced their grievances in their line of work.

 “Asawu felt that it was time to get a sense of how academics perceive the institution and how they feel in relation to the university affecting academic life, especially with new management, “ acting vice president Fiona Horne told Wits Vuvuzela.

Asawu last commissioned a survey to gauge academic staff perceptions of the university in 2010.

Since then Horne said there have been a lot of critical issues affecting the university and widespread dissatisfaction amongst academics.

Issues raised in the survey

The number one widespread dissatisfaction among academic staff is salaries.

“Few people are happy with salary levels, which received a satisfaction rating of only 5.1%, while satisfaction rating for individual’s own position on the salary scale was 8.7%,” the report read.

The academics also took a swipe at the poor communication process with management regarding salaries at Wits.

The union representing Wits academic staff proposes that the university should use the bench-marking system, where salaries are compared with those offered at other universities.

Horne added: “If you are a lecturer you must be paid as a lecturer and not a tutor.”

[pullquote]It’s spot on [on] some of the issues of service delivery. We are on to those issues of service delivery. Some of the issues raised in the survey are historical issues. Some are quite regular issues that were raised by the survey[/pullquote]The university is generally not well governed, that is according to academics in the survey.

“This issue received a dissatisfaction rating of 64.6% of the sample with comments focusing on management’s distance from and inability to hear both staff and student concerns,” the report said.

Wits management responds

Deputy vice chancellor of finance and operations Prof Tawana Kupe confirmed receiving the report and told Wits Vuvuzela that by the time the survey was released the university had already started to address the issues raised.

“It’s spot on [on] some of the issues of service delivery. We are onto those issues of service delivery. Some of the issues raised in the survey are historical issues. Some are quite regular issues that were raised by the survey,” said Kupe.

He also said the issues identified in the survey are justified.

Horne said Asawu has the confidence in the new management, led by incoming vice chancellor Prof Adam Habib (@AdHabb), but cautioned that some issues affecting academic staff are not simple to address.

More issues plaguing academics

Another point of contention at Wits according to Horne is medical aid contribution.

She added: “Over 60% of staff are on maximum contribution.  The vice chancellor and tutors are paying the exact amount of medical aid.  It’s unfair, and it’s a huge chunk of their salary.”

Horne said another big issue academics are faced with is the workload, as they have to cope with teaching large class sizes and the pressure to do research.

“Demands are made on us. People are feeling tired and frustrated,” she said.

Alleged unfilled vacancies

Earlier this year Wits Vuvuzela reported that the academic union was concerned with unfilled vacancies at the university, which management denied that this was the case.  The union also alleged that the number of unfilled vacancies has cost the university “R 100-million”.

“Certain departments are definitely under-staffed. That’s the trend in all universities, especially with the incoming vice chancellor’s [plans] to make it [Wits] a research intensive university.  It’s all fine but, when academics are not getting the support they need, they’ve got huge workloads, it puts them in stressful conditions, “she said.

Kupe said the university has a policy of having a three month window period to replace staff members who have vacated their positions.

Other conditions of service raised in the survey are the lack of parking spaces on campus, the need for child care facilities and academic leave taken by teaching commitments.

Despite the issues raised by Asawu, Horne said academics are proud to be working at the institution.


In with the new, out with the old

Wits plans to employ 30 new A-grade lecturers but current lecturers are concerned this might create a “two-tier” university.

Wits has committed around R30-million for these new lecturers as part of its mission to improve the university’s research output and profile. The president of the Academic Staff Association of Wits University (Asawu) David Dickinson said even though the organisation supports the recruitment of top academics they were concerned about the way their appointment was being suggested.

“We don’t want them to be isolated from other academics and lecturers,” said Dickinson.
Dickinson said they did not want a situation that creates two types of lecturers: “First grade lecturers whose only responsibility is research and second grade lectures who take on all the responsibilities of teaching.”

Dickinson said at the moment it sounded as if the new lecturers would be coming in to focus mainly on research: “Asawu’s view is that workloads should be equally distributed to allow all Wits academics to be research active and that Wits should not be allowed to become a ‘two-tier university’.”

In a recent e-mail he sent to lecturers, Dickinson said a recent survey of Wits academics indicated they were often over-burdened with teaching and administrative responsibilities that “crowd out” research.

[pullquote align=”right”]“First grade lecturers whose only responsibility is research and second grade lectures who take on all the responsibilities of teaching.”[/pullquote]

The importance of research

According to Dinesh Balliah, a new media lecturer at Wits, lecturers are expected to perform in three areas – teaching, administration and research: “Research is the most important one as lecturers get promoted based on their research.”

In the email, Dickinson asked lecturers who felt strongly about the appointments to send him their views. In less than 24 hours he said he had received over 40 responses.
“Lecturers welcome the appointments but they have concerns about the responsibilities of the new lecturers,” said Dickinson.

The positions will be advertised in major newspapers from August 16 to August 29 this year.
Wits also planned to add 100 more postdoctoral fellows to the 117 already existing. It wants to become more of a postgraduate, research-driven institution. This would bring “fresh ideas into the university – and some extensions of existing post-docs that are highly productive,” said Robin Drennan, director of research development at Wits.

Vacancies worry academics

The Academic Staff Association (Asawu) of Wits University  is concerned about the numbers of unfilled vacancies and academic staff retention at the institution.

The staff association said it was also alarmed by a trend of replacing permanent academic posts with short term contracts.

“We believe that this undermines the quality of teaching and reduces research output at Wits. Asawu opposes this ‘casualisation’ of the academic body. We believe that the failure of Wits management to address questions of competitive salaries, to provide adequate funds for research, and to ensure that there are smoothly functioning support systems in place underlies the loss of good academics that have left Wits,” said Asawu president David Dickinson.

Dickinson also said there has been a consistent surplus in the salaries budget at the university of approximately R100 million. Asawu further maintains that the former deputy vice chancellor of finance and operations seemed “more interested in running a budget surplus than building the university as a place of teaching, learning and research”.

Wits denies Asawu’s allegations

Outgoing vice chancellor Professor Loyiso Nongxa denied the allegations. He said that the number of personnel in temporary and acting positions is not due costs saving.  “The university has no policy of deliberately hiring staff on a temporary basis nor has the university been in the position to budget for a surplus budget,” Nongxa told Wits Vuvuzela.

In setting the annual personnel budget, Nongxa said faculties are allocated a personnel budget and they can choose how to spend it. “There is no university policy on how they use that budget, other than not to overspend,” he said.

On the allegations of the university’s budget surplus, deputy vice chancellor of finance and operation Professor Tawana Kupe said that there was never a year when R100 million surpluses were accrued from saving salary costs.

Annonymous blog and alleged economics staff shortages

According to an anonymous blog titled 11th Floor Senate house the Wits Economics department is in “crisis”. The blog alleged a shortage of academic staff and claimed that postgraduate students have assumed the role of lecturers. “There are too few senior academics … they also lost their best academic last year,” according to the blog.

Head of Economic and Business Sciences faculty Professor Judy Backhouse said that the faculty is short of lecturers in some disciplines but denied this was the case with Economics.

“We have had very high enrolments of postgraduates this year, but not in economics. All our classes are taught by staff in the school or appropriately appointed sessional lecturers. Some of the associate lecturers are currently studying for their masters degrees, but most of the staff have masters degrees and 42% of our lecturers have PhDs. We are careful to assign junior staff only to courses that they are qualified to teach,” Backhouse said.



Asawu remains in wage dispute

File photo: Jay Caboz

Wits staff unions will resume their dispute over salaries with Wits management on Monday February 11, even though staff received two raises within the last 7 months.

The Academic Staff Association of Wits University (Asawu) suspended the dispute shortly before the start of last year’s final exams “in the interest of students”, and to negotiate with the newly-appointed members of management “in good faith”. Union members went on strike twice last August after negotiations for improved salaries, improved working conditions and more research funding deadlocked. They had demanded a 9% increase for support staff and payment for academics on the 75th percentile, which is the three-quarter mark in the range of salaries in the higher education sector.

[pullquote align=”right”]“Staff are earning significantly less in January 2013 than they were earning in December 2012.”[/pullquote]

The Wits Council granted a 7.55% increase for academics and 6.8% for support staff in June 2012, and an additional 4% increase for all in January 2013. The yearly bargaining cycle was changed from June to January, meaning Wits will give staff their next raise in January 2014.

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Liz Picarra, Asawu vice-president, said management’s latest offer has not matched the costs of working at Wits. Parking and medical aid fees increased this year as they do annually.

“With these increases in medical aid and parking, academic and support staff are earning significantly less in January 2013 than they were earning in December 2012,” Picarra said.

But Yule Banda, Wits’ Human Resource manager, said the medical aid fee increase came with more benefits and was below the national benchmark. He added that while medical aid fees went up for 2013 alone, the salary increases covered an 18-month period.

In a statement, Asawu described the January salary increase as an imposition on its members that was made without consulting itself or support staff union, the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu).

[pullquote align=”right”]“You have to deal with the problem of renumeration and financial incentives.”[/pullquote]

Unions’ faith in new management team

It welcomed the announcement of Prof Adam Habib as Wits’ next vice-chancellor in December, and hopes he will work to unite the “fractured Wits community”.

Habib said he played a big role in salary negotiations at the University of Johannesburg, where he was a deputy vice-chancellor, in his public address during the appointments process in November. He proposed a “university pact”: an alliance between staff, students and alumni that will investigate how best to manage their demands.

Habib said it is a vice-chancellor’s responsibility to attract and retain top academic talent from competing universities.

“You have to deal with the problem of remuneration and financial incentives. If you bury your head in the sand and say the academy is an equal socialist space, you will never attract the kinds of people you need.”

Wits has commissioned a fact-finding inquiry into last year’s salary negotiation process which will be externally headed by Mark Antrobus, SC. It is expected to recommend ways to improve future negotiations.

Published in Wits Vuvuzela 1st edition, 6th February, 2013.

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