Wits academics to strike again

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.”


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Unions reject salary increase

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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