Soliciting people for support. Wits academic staff protest about salaries outside the North Gate of the Yale Road entrance. 280812. picture: Chris Collingridge 736

Johannesburg - How to spend Wits University’s almost R2 billion in savings has become the crux of the university’s ongoing wage dispute.

Last month, academic and support staff engaged in two one-day strikes, demanding pay rises and better working conditions, as well as more money for research.

The two unions – the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) and the Academic Staff Association of Wits University (Asawu) – have argued that last year Wits had a surplus of R100 million, of which R30m came from salaries, and savings of R1.8bn, some of which should be used for staff.

“As a public good, the university’s purpose is not to make profits – it is about service to the nation through teaching and research,” said the unions in a joint statement issued yesterday.

But vice-chancellor and principal Professor Loyiso Nongxa has retaliated, saying these funds were a result of unfilled vacancies that needed to be filled by departments.

“The R100m surplus that Wits has at the moment is as a result of unfilled vacancies largely in the faculties… Should these funds be utilised to fund current academic salaries, this will leave no funds for already stretched faculties and academics to appoint new staff,” he said.

He denied accusations that the focus of Wits had become money making.

“Management believes that it cannot over-commit its resources in an unsustainable manner or use its reserves and investments to pay for salaries today, to the future detriment of the university, especially in light of declining government subsidies, increasing costs and the impact of the uncertain global economy on fundraising,” said Nongxa.

In its latest demands, Nehawu proposed that management engage positively with the critical issues of a support staff salary increase from January 2013, sliding scales to promote equity, and the resolution of the shift allowance dispute.

Asawu put forward detailed proposals to resolve the dispute over academic salaries and research funding. The union proposed a plan which aims to achieve the proposed salary scale – called the 75th percentile – in three years.

The 75th percentile is the three-quarter mark in salaries across the tertiary education sector, and the union has claimed 90 percent of its academics earn below this mark.

Asawu proposes starting with an across-the-board increase that would abolish a third of the current gap between the median Wits academic salary and the 75th percentile benchmark next year. Further increases over the next three years would bring all salaries into the scope of the new benchmark.

Asawu also wants the percentage of research-related subsidies received by Wits that are allocated to the University Research Committee from accredited publications and research degrees to be increased from the current 45 percent to 85 percent over five years.

Nongxa said the university was continuing negotiations with staff, and had put through offers last week.

These included a further salary increase in January 2013, following the existing salary increase of 7.55 percent of July 2012, and a commitment to addressing anomalies in the salaries of academic staff based on performance. - The Star

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