Unions, Wits clash over pay

By Time of article published Aug 2, 2012

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Johannesburg - Unions representing Witwatersrand University service staff and academics went on a pay strike on Thursday, disrupting some campus activities.

The boom gates on Yale Road, leading into the university, were unmanned and open in the morning, and at least one library had closed for “security reasons”.

A second, large library on campus remained open, though it appeared to have fewer staff members.

The gates were again operating by 1pm, though they did not appear to be staffed by uniformed security guards.

Several students interviewed said they had seen some, though not all, of their day's lectures cancelled or postponed.

“A lot of our lectures were cancelled,” said actuarial student Muteto Muteto.

“Today, instead of having five (lectures) I had three.”

Not all students were affected by the strike. Medical student Mpazi Siwale said his classes at Wits Medical School had not been disrupted.

“Unfortunately, not for me. I just had an exam,” he said.

Academic Staff Association of Wits University leader David Dickinson accused management of negotiating in bad faith over the past three years.

Dickinson was joined by representatives from the Administration, Library and Technical Staff Association and National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu).

Dickinson said the university was not living up to its previous agreement of paying academics an average up to the 75th percentile for the industry.

He said this was key to insuring the university attracted the best academic staff and remained competitive. The academics also wanted more funds for research and argued that funds allocated by the government for this were not reaching them.

“The demands are precisely to protect the value of this university,” Dickinson said.

Nehawu's Wits chair Richard Sadiki said his members were seeking a “sliding” scale increase with a nine percent increase for the lowest paid workers.

Sadiki showed reporters his payslip, indicating he earned only a R3000 base rate for his work as a security guard.

Wits vice-chancellor Loyiso Nongxa denied the university had been negotiating in bad faith and accused unions of walking out of discussions.

He said unions and the university had agreed on “98 percent” of the issues, with pay increases the only outstanding matter. Nongxa maintained the increases were “unsustainable”.

Dickinson said the university had a R100 million surplus last year and could afford to pay more.

Nongxa agreed the university had shown a surplus. However, this was due to vacancies.

“You cannot support (pay) increases on positions that have not been filled.”

Nongxa said management was concerned about how the strike would damage the university's reputation, but could not agree to the union's demanded pay increases.

“I am concerned about our reputation, but we cannot be coerced into something that is unsustainable,” he said. - Sapa

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