EMPTY POCKETS: Disgruntled staff at the Wits Theatre are clashing with new management, about over-time pay. Photo: Lameez Omarjee
By Lameez Omarjee and Roxanne Joseph
Wits Theatre staff are complaining about changes in the way they are paid overtime saying “new management” limits their claims.
“Our contract says five days a week, but now we work up to seven days sometimes,” said Sipho*, who works at the theatre.
Sipho said the work hours set in their contracts have been spread out across the week, and not five days. Even though workers come in on the weekends, they do not get paid for overtime because they are still working off the week’s required work hours.
Sipho was told by management they did not qualify for “overtime” pay because the “minister” does not allow it. Sipho also said that “all” the staff were unhappy with conditions.
“They [are] limiting worker hours,” said Olivia Moeti, whose mother works at the Wits Theatre. Workers finish at 3pm on weekdays but come in on Saturday to work the other hours required by their contract, she said.
The theatre employs five cleaners, two of whom are directly employed by Wits.
According to theatre manager Gita Pather, university policy states that anyone who earns under the threshold of R198 000 each year is entitled to overtime and has to work at least 42.5 hours a week. They also cannot work more than 10 hours overtime, because it is against labour law.
“The rules of the industry have been negotiated and are in line with university policy and labour laws,” she said. When she took over as manager, overtime rules were not strictly enforced.
“They were getting paid overtime and taking toil,” she said. “Those who didn’t qualify for overtime were being given it anyway … People had gotten used to being paid huge amounts of overtime.”
But this year, she was given a budget and has to use that amount allocated to overtime across the whole year.
Problems started when new management took over this year, said Moeti. “My mum has been working here for 31 years, this is the first time it’s happening.” The new management insists that these new rules come from Wits University, she said.
“According to management, they say, Wits says it’s [work on Saturdays] is not overtime … They say Wits says they must get a day off instead of paying them,” she said.
“I am completely satisfied that we are working within the rules set by the university and labour laws.”
However, Pather did not know about this and said the only thing that has changed is the number of hours they are allowed to work. Unless it is festival time, employees do not work on a Sunday and they work off a call sheet.
Wits Services, who manage the cleaning staff, are not aware of any overtime issues. According to director Nicki McGee: “We undertake when appointing service providers via the approved, transparent tender processes, and in consultation with numerous stakeholders at the university.
“The service providers adhere to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act … to ensure that such practices do not occur.”
Additionally, there aren’t different rates for night shift, from 4pm to 8.30pm. No provision for transport is made for staff ending their shifts at night. “It’s not fair to let a woman walk to Bree in the middle of the night,” said Moeti.
Pather said security provides transport to all Wits employees who work late at night. “They take them to the taxi rank.”
Moeti said management was trying to save on expenses throughout the year so that they could get “more money in December”. She said: “They’re trying to save, they’re saving on other people’s expense.”
She also said more people had problems but they were too scared to come forward, out of fear of losing their jobs.
“There is an issue,” Pather said. “But I have a set amount of money.” She said the theatre is “completely compliant”. She said she is aware of the unhappiness, but has a budget and has to manage that.
“I am completely satisfied that we are working within the rules set by the university and labour laws.”
*not his real name
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.
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.
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.