Illustration: ANA Pictures
UCT unions and lecturers have reacted with outrage after the university’s top management paid themselves R2.8 million in performance bonuses for 2016, almost double the R1.5m of 2015.

The bonuses were paid despite student financial exclusions, insourced workers claiming they had not been paid, ongoing staff salary disputes and Fees Must Fall protests.

At a meeting with staff, students and workers last week, it emerged that staff were told to implement austerity measures, understanding the institution was trying to save money, with even the smallest of cost- cutting measures like reducing their use of photocopying or justifying the use of academic journals in the library.

In the 2016 annual report, vice-chancellor Max Price was paid a performance bonus of R406 782.

He also received R716 724 for “other services”, which includes a payment of R445 019 “being the deemed value for reporting purposes of the house and vehicle provided to the Vice-Chancellor as part of his package as Vice- Chancellor”.

This is atop a salary of R2 558 380.

Deputy vice-chancellor at the time, Professor Francis Petersen, was paid a R317 338 bonus. He is now University of the Free State vice-chancellor.

Human resources executive director Miriam Hoosain was paid a bonus of R247 706 (see entire list on page 4).

When the Cape Times queried this with Price, he released a statement on the UCT website, saying in part: “The most senior members of the SLG (senior leadership group) wished to send a signal to the university regarding remuneration and austerity by voluntarily accepting lower salary increases than the rest of the university.

“From 2015 to 2016, I took a 0% increase, the deputy vice-chancellors (DVCs) took a 2.5% increase and the executive directors, registrar and deans took a 3.1% increase. Other PASS (professional, administrative support and service) staff - in pay classes 5-12 - received a 6.8% increase from 2015 to 2016; academic staff received a 5.8% increase; and clinical staff received a 7% increase.

“In addition, SLG members, like many staff at UCT, donate personally to the institution, many to student financial aid. By example, I donated the full amount of my bonus to UCT - mostly to support financial aid.”

Asked for proof of this, UCT spokesperson Elijah Moholola said UCT’s development and alumni department executive director, Dr Russell Ally, whose department deals with donations at the university, confirmed that Price had over the last several years donated and pledged a total of R949 000. This includes the amount given in 2017 that is the equivalent to the amount he received as bonus.

“In terms of donations by other members of the Senior Leadership Group, this information is private and donors themselves would need to voluntarily reveal the details should they so wish,” Moholola said.

In a bid to address questions regarding the bonuses, the university claimed all processes had been done in consultation with relevant unions and it was agreed by these unions that it would have been in bad faith to cancel bonuses.

All three unions, however, have denied this.

Price had said: “These payments are aligned with the UCT remuneration policy, that they are considered and decided within an agreed process that is transparent and within accepted human resources (HR) practices.

“The remuneration structure (performance appraisal and bonus system) has been in place at UCT since 2002. It applies across all academic and PASS staff and is agreed by the unions, management and Council.

“During 2016, because of austerity measures, we did consider not paying bonuses to staff, but concluded - with the unions’ approval - that since people had worked from July 2015 to June 2016 on the understanding that exceptional work would be rewarded with bonuses, it would be in bad faith to cancel such bonuses in late 2016. 

"We also believed that it would not be fair or reasonable to deny bonuses to one part of the university while paying bonuses to everyone else at UCT.”

But the unions deny it was “with the unions’ approval”.

The university said it will raise the matter of bonuses this year in the consultations with the unions.

“The general sense is also that even in times of austerity one would want to continue to reward outstanding performances,” Price said.

It was important to note that SLG members performed executive functions on a par with other executive functions in business and government, Price said.

The salary packages of executive staff were relatively low compared to industry and bonuses formed an important component of the package, he added.

“They are part of the conditions of employment as negotiated with the unions, are part of the legitimate expectations of staff as the conditions under which they were employed, and cannot be unilaterally discontinued or varied,” said Price

“If we are to propose a change of the policy to the unions, that change will take place going forward, not retrospectively.”

Further, in response to additional Cape Times queries about which unions had been consulted and were in agreement with the bonuses, Moholola said: “All the unions that were at the time formally recognised by UCT were part of the process, which were the Academic Union (AU), Employees Union (EU) and Nehawu (National Education, Health and Allied workers Union). Each union would have been consulted around conditions of service affecting their members.”

AU vice-president Dr Kelley Moult, of the Centre for Law & Society, said this was “carefully worded obfuscation”.

“There are a few inaccuracies and/or misconceptions that have been created by the VC Desk.

“The VC’s email creates the impression that the SLG bonus payments were presented to the unions and signed off by them. This is factually incorrect. The VC points out in his communique that bonus payments for the SLG are linked to key performance indicators. 

"The unions are not privy to the assessment or evaluation of the KPIs, or individual performance. We are asked annually for a 360 (annual) review of the VC’s performance. However, it is unclear how that review impacts a potential bonus payment.”

She said the AU does not negotiate in respect of the SLG’s pay policy, changes to that pay policy, increases or bonuses for the SLG.

“In 2015, academics took the decision of accepting a below-inflation 5% increase in recognition of the calls for free education, despite having negotiated a higher increase in the first instance. The university took the decision to raise that by a further 0.8%.

“Concerns about bonus payouts made against a backdrop of austerity and job losses are also shared by other groups on campus,” Moult said.

She added that the Academics Union salary increases for 2017 have not yet been settled, and are the subject of binding arbitration which is set to take place shortly.

Employees Union organiser Yasmin Fazel-Ellahi concurred.

“The university does consult with the Employees Union around conditions of employment and salary increases for PASS. This excludes the SLG.”

UCT Nehawu chairperson Lindikhaya Payiya said the union had not been consulted about bonuses, specifically bonuses for the SLG, nor were they aware of the amounts paid out to the SLG in bonuses.

On speaking to the Cape Times, this was the first time he had heard of the SLG bonuses. The union says they would never approve this.

After being presented with the responses from unions, Moholola said: “The payment of performance bonuses is part of the conditions of service for staff at UCT. 

"Each union negotiates the specific pay and remuneration structure that applies to their members within the parameters of the agreed conditions of service. This forms part of the legitimate expectations of staff falling under the various conditions of service.”

Moholola then admitted that the executive performance process was not negotiated with the unions.

“The Senior Leadership Group (SLG) performance process is not negotiated with the unions - and we are not required to do so as they fall outside of the bargaining units. However, the same principles and remuneration structure applies to the SLG and executive as for PASS - that performance bonuses may be paid based on an assessment of performance.

“Any change in remuneration policy needs to be negotiated with the unions or consulted with staff who fall outside of the bargaining units, depending on the staffing group they fall under,” Moholola said.

Wendy Burgers, a senior researcher in the Division of Medical Virology and as associate member of the Institute of Infectious Diseases and Molecular Medicine at UCT, and member of the Staff for Social Justice in Education, said: “We were outraged (when we saw the bonuses), this is in a context when we are fighting for students not to be financially excluded from the university, where there are a multitude of workers issues. 

"There are multiple disputes between different unions and UCT management, and we’ve been told this is a climate of austerity, we have to save money.

“And then we see that bonuses are paid which are double the bonuses from 2015, and we are asking how can that be justified ethically, and isn’t there supposed to be a shortage of money?

“This is not an institution that cares for its staff and its students, and it is an elitist institution, it’s not democratic. We don’t get to decide whether our top management deserve those bonuses or not.

"That’s decided within council. And it is mired in the policies and procedures at UCT which we have to challenge. We don’t believe they deserve the bonuses,” she said.

lisa.isaacs@inl.co.za