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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UPDATED: Wits food vendor workers protest

Workers and students protesting against alleged exploitation by franchise owners

STRIKE: Workers and students protesting against alleged exploitation by franchise owners                                                                                                                                                                            Photo: Nasya Smith

UPDATED: Protesting workers from food franchises at Wits have met with their bosses to give their demands and will go back to work as they await a response next week.

“We have pitched our needs, demands and grievances to our bosses and we are waiting for responses and resolutions by next week Thursday,” said Thandiswa Yaphi, a protest leader and worker at Sizzlers.

Nicholas Matthes, a member of Wits Services, had helped facilitate Friday afternoon’s meeting and said the issues were sensitive with “many contributing factors.”

 

By Nasya Smith, Aarti Bhana and Leanne Cumming

Workers from food franchises on campus launched a lunchtime protest in the Matrix on Friday complaining that their working conditions are exploitative.

The singing and dancing workers were soon joined by some students during the protest as they forced the closure of Matrix shops.

Thandiswa Yaphi, who works at Sizzlers and is one of the protest leaders, said that some of the workers have been employed by food franchises on campus for over fifteen years but still do not have a contract. Some of the workers that do have contracts, allegedly have to adhere to strict bathroom times and still receive a wage below the legal minimum wage.

Yaphi said that the Labour department is not assisting them in dealing with their problems.

The protesting workers are also unhappy that they were not included in an insourcing agreement with Wits workers that topped-up salaries to a minimum of R4,500.

Akies Berdanis, owner of Zesty Lemonz, said that all food franchises on campus operate independently from the university and his employee’s pay is the same as in any other Zesty Lemonz franchise. Berdanis admitted that not all franchises on campus were aligned with regulations of the Bargaining Council, an association of staff and employers, last year but apparently most have “come to the party” since then.

When asked about the bathroom regulations, Berdanis said that the franchises merely ask if employees could avoid going to the bathroom during busy hours, but says “we are human, if you have to go you have to go”.

The protests are continuing and the workers are currently having a meeting to discuss the way forward.