Insourcing high turns sour

The insourcing of about 1530 workers has meant improved salaries and benefits for the new Wits employees but two women say they have been left high and dry, and are yet to enjoy these benefits.

The insourcing celebrations remain on hold for Memory Mabizela, 47, and Elizabeth Labase, 49, who work as hygiene operators for Wits contractor, Ukweza, and who have been excluded from the insourcing process. The two women have worked at Wits for the last 17 years.


Taking a stand: Ukweza staff, Elizabeth Labase and Memory Mabizela are sad that they are not part of Wits’ insourcing plan.                                                                                                           Photo: Olwethu Boso

Last year the Wits human resources (HR) office held a meeting with all Ukweza staff to notify them that they would all be insourced. At the beginning of this year when a number of former outsourced workers went to sign their contracts with the university, the two women say they were not given contracts.

Mabizela and Labase approached their Ukweza boss, Corné van Rooyen, about the matter.

Speaking in seSotho, they told Wits Vuvuzela they had asked what was going to happen to them. They were told the university did not have the necessary hygiene certificate registered in order to bring them on board.

Mabizela said that this was strange because the university was able to use Ukweza services even though Ukweza apparently does not have a registered hygiene certificate themselves, but, has been rendering the service to Wits nonetheless.

Van Rooyen told Wits Vuvuzela that he did not wish to comment about the matter and instead referred us to the university’s HR department.

The two women then approached Wits HR director Dr Kgomotso Kasankola. They say Kasankola told them that HR was under the impression that they used machinery and chemicals to do their work and therefore they could not be insourced because their company could not provide the appropriate machines and chemicals to Wits.

According to Labase, the university has insourced the cleaning staff from Ukweza who work with chemicals to clean toilets and office spaces on a daily basis, yet as hygiene operators, they only use deo-block (air fresheners) and plastics to collect sanitary garbage.

The women say they returned to Van Rooyen to clarify the issues raised in their meeting with Wits HR. He apparently told them they were not going to be insourced but he would see if their pay could stay the same while they worked for Ukweza until he leaves and finishes his term next year.

“We are clearly not important at Wits. The work we do doesn’t seem to be important to them,” said Labase.

Wits spokesperson Buhle Zuma said, “Based on the specialised function of the work rendered, an independent legal opinion has been sought on this matter. A decision will be made once the legal opinion is received.”

Sign or forever hold your piece job

ON THE JOB: Business as usual for Wits cleaner. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

ON THE JOB: Business as usual for Wits cleaner. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Desperate to keep their jobs, Wits cleaners say they signed contracts which they were not given time to read – making them all temporary workers for the next three months.

New company

Ukweza took over from Supercare as the new company to whom Wits has outsourced its cleaning services. Cleaners have claimed for years that Supercare treated them unfairly. Wits Vuvuzela spoke to several cleaners about the new contracts, which were signed during the university break.

New contracts [pullquote]“We had no time to read the contracts, but we were scared to lose our jobs so we just signed”[/pullquote]

Maggie* said all the workers were called in on a Saturday to sign the new contracts. The workers were not given copies of the contracts or even given time to read through what they were signing.
“We had no time to read the contracts, but we were scared to lose our jobs so we just signed,” said a visibly upset Johanna*. Once they had signed, she said they were given a thick document to take home and read through. It set out the terms of their contracts.

Temporary work

Only at this point did the cleaners realise they would be working on a temporary basis for three months, after which permanent positions would be given.

Agnes* who has worked at Wits for 13 years found this unfair, especially because the contract said they could be dismissed without warning during those three months. “I have been here for 13 years, how can I be a temp?”

Tokelo Nhlapo from the Workers’ Solidarity Committee said the new contracts also contained a clause which allowed the workers to be body-searched, something he thought would allow for “poor working conditions”.

The workers were forced to sign because they were desperate for employment, he said. They were left especially vulnerable because contract workers were not allowed to have a union. “The university is taking advantage of structural unemployment,” said Nhlapo.

Clauses and responses

Nhlapo also made these allegations on twitter. He was engaged by the vice chancellor, Prof Adam Habib, who replied: “Deliberately lying serves no purpose but destroys Wits reputation.”

Besides the brief interaction on twitter, Nhlapo said Habib and Prof Tawana Kupe had been reluctant to engage with the Workers’ Solidarity Committee, because it was not a “recognised body” in the university structure. “We will continue to engage them. If they don’t listen we will engage students.”

A source from Ukweza management, who asked not to be identified, said: “No-one forced them to sign. They could have left when Supercare left.”

He added that no-one could say whether Ukweza was good or bad yet. “As for the body searching, it hasn’t been implemented so I can’t say anything about that.”

Kupe told Wits Vuvuzela that the allegations made by Nhlapo and the cleaners were not true.
“We would not condone such a practice because we are committed to the upholding worker’s rights and protecting them from abuse,” Kupe said.

He added that fixed term contracts do not automatically make the workers temporary workers. Kupe said the university would engage the Workers’ Solidarity Committee after they took measures “to regularise their status.”

*Names have been changed since the workers requested that their identities be protected.