Workers sing and shout outside the Senate Room. Photo: Nomatter Ndebele
By Palesa Radebe and Mfuneko Toyana
Wits University’s support staff and unions picketed outside the Senate Room on Thursday afternoon demanding an end to the mistreatment of outsourced workers.
Congregating outside the room as academics and Wits administration officials entered, workers shouted “Phantsi nge outsourcing Phantsi” (down with outsourcing).
The workers were gathered in their numbers to deliverer a memorandum to out-going Vice Chancellor Loyiso Nongxa.
In his address to the workers, Nongxa seemed to agree with the workers’ grievances. Speaking in isiXhosa, he began by saying: “We as black people, especially those of us from the rural areas, grew up being undermined and we continue to be mistreated. I apologise to all of you that have been treated unfairly”.
Nongxa spoke of his unhappiness at the fact that when workers had problems, they never spoke up for themselves, but always sent spokespeople to speak on their behalf. He said the practice should end and, to loud applause and whistles, that the workers should speak for themselves.
Nongxa finished by saying that: “whether you work for in-sourcing or you work for out-sourcing, you still work for Wits and that has not changed”.
“This should not end with you complaining, you have to make sure that you find a way forward and a resolution”, he added.
The memorandum distributed by the striking workers calls an end to outsourcing and better treatment of support staff, who say they are paid low wages and are not even allowed to use the same toilets as students.
It also calls for full health, education and employment benefits, as well as job security.
Wits Workers Solidarity Committee, said they support the workers who came out to demand the end of outsourcing.
According to two cleaners who wished to remain anonymous, the picket was partly sparked by the workers inability to access the campus after their access cards were deactivated without their knowledge.
THE Academic Staff Union of Wits University (Asawu) has embarked on a boycott of all university meetings in an attempt to bring the university to a halt.
The indefinite boycott started on August 20 and involves 750 Asawu members who will also boycott aspects of the new performance management system.
Asawu President Prof David Dickinson said these meetings make decisions about many important things including the curriculum, marking and examinations. “Without these meetings these core functions of the university cannot proceed,” Dickinson said.
Speaking on behalf of Wits management, Dr. Kgomotso Kasonkola, Director of Human Resources said deans and heads of schools had been asked to make arrangements to ensure that administrative and other activities of the university continue to run. “We believe that our colleagues do not intend to undermine the interests of students or to disrupt the academic programme,” Kasonkola said.
Asawu made their grievances public with a strike earlier this month. The strike on August 2 was attended by approximately 1 000 support staff and academics according to the union.
The academic union has planned another one-day strike on Tuesday, August 28 supported by the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) and the Administration, Library and Technical Staff Association (Altsa). An Asawu statement advised all students to study at home on August 28 and seek guidance from their lecturers on what to study.
The protestors demand competitive salaries and increased research funding, among other things.
Kasonkola said: “Senior management is concerned that the current salary demands by the unions will exert pressure on student fees to ensure institutional sustainability.”
Dickinson also said the union is at the final stage of responding to an article by the Vice Chancellor Loyiso Nongxa in Business Day earlier this month. In the article Nongxa said Wits is one of the best paying universities in the country.
“The wage settlement being contested is a level well above the consumer price index and is comparable with the best settlements at other universities,” wrote the Vice Chancellor.
Wits Vuvuzela reported earlier this year Dickinson had been warned by Nongxa a charge of disrepute could be brought against him. Dickinson said the agreement reached at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) protects him from disciplinary action.
Wits academic staff protesting outside Yale Road. Photo By: Zinhle Tshabalala
WITS students claim they are being exploited because fees increase annually but academic and support staff are not being paid accordingly.
SRC president Tebogo Thothela said students were supporting the academic staff strike out of principle. He said, it made no sense that for the last three years student fees and the upfront fee had increased, yet that money was not being used to pay Wits employees.
“Where is this money going to?”Thothela asked.
“The university is fattening their reserves”, said Mukovhe Morris Masutha, former SRC president. “Every year the fees increased we were told that the money was going to pay academic staff, but they are not being paid.”
Khanyisa Chauke, 3rd year engineering, said the staff should get what they are protesting for because they deserve to be paid fairly. She said the money in the reserves should be used to pay the staff, because students already pay high fees compared to other institutions and therefore the money should be put to good use.
Thothela said most importantly their support for the strike was to ensure that no one suggests that student fees should increase in order to pay for academic salaries.
“We are here to tell lecturers that we are supporting you but it must never be at the expense of our fellow students”.
He said it was also in the worker’s best interest to keep the fees and upfront fees low because staff members also have children who attend the university.
follow @witsvuvuzela on Twitter for more strike action.
Photos: Jay Caboz
The Wits academic staff union have pressed ahead with their planned strike today, after last-minute negotiations yesterday failed.
Members of the union, ASAWU, have gathered at the entrances to Wits main campus in small groups, holding signs that read “We love Wits, do you?” and “Stop imposing – negotiate.”
Member of ASAWU and Senior lecturer in the School of Mining and Engineering, Carl Beaumont, said,“Our aims for today are to get our message across to Wits University management, that staff have had enough. We’ve had enough of managerialism, we’ve had enough of imposed pay-rises and poor salaries. It’s something that’s been brewing for years, not something that’s just happened in 2012.”
David Dickinson, President of ASAWU (pictured above) said, “People have to stand up for their rights, and more importantly they have to stand up for the good of Wits University. We believe the management is running this university into the ground.”
Management announced a 7.25% increase for academic staff, but the Administration, Library and Technical Staff Association (ALTSA) and the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU) have demanded a 9% increase.
ALTSA and NEHAWU, as well as Academic Staff Association of Wits University (ASAWU), also made non-wage related demands in a memorandum to management.
The three unions demand:
– a 9% salary increase for support staff, to be paid at a higher scale at the 75th percentile of the tertiary education sector benchmark
– decent salaries to be given before performance regulations were initiated;
– 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;
– an increase in individual research incentive
However, Wits vice-Chancellor and principal Prof Loyiso Nongxa says that meeting these demands are complicated, and formal investigations need to be concluded prior to reaching an agreement.
Nongxa said that Wits academics are missing the bigger picture in their fight for better pay and working conditions, in an article he wrote for Business Day last week.
A rally for staff is set to take place on the Library Lawns at 12:00.
School’s out: Wits lecturers on strike
Teacher’s in action over wage disputes
Wits staff protest against management