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.


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

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Medical aid dispute remains unresolved

Wits University management has until October 1 to accede to the demand by the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) to remove what the union says is an “offensive” clause in the conditions of employment.

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Pay dispute endangers students

Low night shift allowances for Campus Control are allegedly leading to increased absenteeism among security guards—and putting students in danger.

Security guards are paid a monthly night shift allowance of R203.94.

They work seven night shifts a month, each of which are 12 hours long.  This means they are paid about R29 per night shift in addition to their basic salary.

Chairperson of the Wits branch of the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) Nnwamato Sadiki said the low allowance and long hours have started a trend of absenteeism amongst security guards working the night shift.

“Each and every shift you cannot find people that are on shift, some of them are reporting they are sick and some of them are reporting that they are not interested in coming due to various reasons,” said Sadiki.

Campus Control security guards are meant to be posted in the Braamfontein area for the protection of students who live in the area.

Campus Control liaison manager Lucky Khumela said security guards did take off work for sick leave or other reasons. He could not say whether there was increased absenteeism due to unhappiness with the night shift allowance.

“I cannot say no or it’s not a problem that has been identified yet because you find that people get sick or they need to get off work,” Khumela said.

ONLINE 27_Campus control

UNDER WAGE: Guards from Wits campus control are unhappy with their night shift allowance. Wits union leader, Nnwamato Sadiki, says guards are earning an extra R203.94 for the seven night shifts they are required to do per month. They want R272. Photo Anazi Zote

“I have never really heard of any issue that workers are reluctant to come to work because of low pay. Wits University is competitive when it comes to campus security companies especially in comparison to other universities,” he said.

However, Wits Vuvuzela reporters who live in the area have noticed a lack of visible Campus Control security guards. Many students also said they felt unsafe in the area, especially when they stay late at school to complete their assignments and study for exams.

Matsepo Khumalo, 1st year BA in Dramatic Arts, said she feels unsafe in Braamfontein without security guards.

“I witnessed a mugging outside Bridgeview and that is relatively close to campus. It is really scary to think that you can be mugged near campus … It would be nice to just walk freely,” Khumalo said.

Khumalo told Wits Vuvuzela that while Campus Control was short-staffed, shifts were adequately staffed even after security guards call in sick.

“Although we are we are very short-staffed we are fortunate that we have security officers who stay around Braamfontein and some of them stay on campus. Whenever someone books off sick another security guard will come to replace him,” Khumela said.

Sadiki said the safety of students could be comprised because security guards are not motivated to work.

“We can’t say we need to compromise the lives of the students but if we are not getting enough of what we deserve and of what we have worked for, it can bring the morale down,” Sadiki said.

Deputy chairperson of Wits Nehawu Billy Cebekhulu said the disputes over the night shift allowance has been going on since 2009.

According to a Wits human resources memorandum sent to Nehawu in March of this year, management acknowledged that the night shift allowance had not increased for six years to 2008 from 2002. It said the night allowance “remained constant for reasons of security industry compliance.”

However, management said that while the allowance was fixed, the total pay package for security guards increased “without fail” every year.

Khumela denied that Campus Control security guards were underpaid.

“Wits University pay their security well and if that was not the case there would be no security guards on campus,” said Khumela.

But Cebekhulu told Wits Vuvuzela that Wits security guards were receiving lower night allowances when compared to the University of Johannesburg.

Sadiki said the security guards believe they are also receiving lower pay packages when compared to other service staff at Wits. He feels Campus Control are not being treated equally to the people they are protecting.

“I am disappointed in Wits because I thought it was an institution with a good reputation since it produced intellectual students.

“They are getting exposure from green pastures everywhere but they forget the environment of working classes, which is the security officers on campus, is deteriorating,” Sadiki said.

Nehawu said they were planning on taking action with regards to the night shift allowances to upper management at Wits.

Nehawu Wits re-elects former chairperson

Despite the apparent discontent with the leadership of the Wits branch of the National Education Health & Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU), the former chairperson was re-elected at a meeting yesterday.

Richard Sadiki retains his position, along with four other former executive committee members, after an election in Wits Senate House on Tuesday.

In a meeting last week, regional chairman Lulamile Sibanda said, “the workers will never be happy with their salaries … the leadership must be driven by the interest of the members of the congress.”

He called for elections that were democratic, open and frank. “[We] must seek to unite membership of the union.”

The former executive committee, with re-elected chairperson, Richard Sadiki. Photo: Roxanne Joseph

The former executive committee, with re-elected chairperson, Richard Sadiki. Photo: Roxanne Joseph

The former executive have achieved a lot, according to Nehawu members. These include having increased branch membership from 470 at the start of their term to 700, the compensation of workers who were not being paid overtime and the renovation of the female security officers change rooms (from toilets to proper bathroom facilities).

The new executive, which consists of 14 members (of which only three are women) in total, has its work cut out for it, according to the congress. “But we, the congress, have faith in our new leaders and expect continued success,” one member said at the close of the meeting.

The new committee will serve a four-year term, ending in mid-2018.

Nehawu chairpersons divided over leadership question

The Wits branch of the National Education Health & Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU) is unhappy with the current leadership, according to regional chairperson, Lulamile Sibanda.

Sibanda was speaking at the branch congress in Senate House earlier today which was convened to elect new leaders but his sentiments were not echoed by the branch chairperson.

“The leadership has not optimally represented the members’ interests related to collective bargaining,” Sibanda said. Concerns raised by members included unhappiness with wages, being looked over for promotions and contractual issues.

The members who were in attendance though expressed their satisfaction with the current leadership and applauded loudly when “Prince”, the branch chairperson who refused to give his full name, spoke about how successful the union had been thus far this year. “Our members are happy, we are doing good things, they feel supported here at Wits,” he said.

NEHAWU members singing and dancing at the start of the meeting on Wednesday afternoon. Photo: Roxanne Joseph

NEHAWU members singing and dancing at the start of the meeting on Wednesday afternoon. Photo: Roxanne Joseph

“Whether or not our members are really happy will de determined by the vote,” said Sibanda. “If they vote in the current leadership, then this will show faith in them, otherwise new leadership must take over and make things right.”

127 of the total 685 members of the branch attended the meeting but the number fell short of the 50 percent required to conduct the elections. The election has been postponed to next Tuesday, July 22.

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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Asawu unhappy with ‘imposition’ of increase at Wits: BD Live

 

ALTSA leaders break ranks

Members from the unions ALTSA, ASAWU and NEHAWU gathered outside the Great Hall Steps at 12pm to protest the break down in wage negotiations with Wits Council. Photo by Jay Caboz

By Lisa Golden and Nandi Ndlazi
Photographs by Jay Caboz

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.
nandi@witsvuvuzela.com
lisa@witsvuvuzela.com