UCT vice-chancellor Max Price Photo: Ian Landsberg/INLSA
About 280 staff left UCT due to the university implementing austerity measures, through retrenchment, incentivised early retirement (IER) or voluntary separation package (VSP), the Employees Union (EU) says.

Despite this, the university’s top management paid themselves R2.8 million in performance bonuses for 2016, almost double the R1.5m of 2015.

UCT unions and lecturers have reacted with outrage to the bonuses, saying they have been left demoralised by the “callousness” of the university’s actions and there was “no justification for demanding that ordinary workers ‘tighten their belts’ while the executive stuff their pockets”.

The university, however, denied this.

UCT spokesperson Elijah Moholola said the austerity project was part of an exercise to ensure the financial sustainability of UCT.

“The austerity target for salary savings was 4-5% and this meant that in certain departments only about two or three staff members would have left after voluntary severance packages were agreed upon,” he said.

As reflected in UCT’s 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 on top of a salary of R2 558 380. Price, however, said he donated the full amount of the bonus to UCT - mostly to support financial aid. 

 He also said other SLG (senior leadership group) members, like many staff at UCT, donate personally to the institution, many to student financial aid.

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

In a statement, EU president Andrea Plos and union organiser Yasmin Fazel-Ellahi said the union was consulted about the VSP/IER and played a pivotal role in limiting the number of staff affected.

“However, all negotiations, were conducted on the basis that all staff - including executive staff - were to tighten their belts due to the financial constraints present in the higher education sector, such as Fees Must Fall, students being financially excluded, etc.

“The university went through another round of VSP/IER, but this time treated it as retrenchment as it was not voluntary. Some affected staff were redeployed in other areas of the university, while some were retrenched due to alternative employment not found within the university,” they said.

The union said in the case of the executive, for the 2016 period, they were directly responsible for the mishandling of the student protests, which resulted in closure of the university for nine weeks, disruption and non-completion of the academic year, entering into unilateral agreements that placed the sustainability of the university at risk, failure to protect staff and property.

“The student numbers grow year on year, with fewer staff, yet are expected to provide excellent service to students. The Professional and Administrative Service Staff (PASS) have to deal with larger workload, which results in unhappiness, absenteeism, ill health, low staff morale, burnout,” the union said.

“In some departments and units, the VSP/IER and restructuring have resulted in staff, some in senior positions, having resigned from the university.

‘‘Our information reveals that most of the resignations were due to the ‘reorganisation’ or work due to the cuts brought about by UCT’s austerity drive.”

To consider it justifiable to raise the bonuses of executive staff, amid such a drive, is indefensible, the union said.

“In selling the ‘austerity measures’ the message was that we all need to ‘take the pain’. In what version of reality is this jump in executive bonuses ‘taking the pain’ at executive level. And here we thought we were in it ‘together’.”

The stress the EU members are under will result in them either taking more sick days due to stress or resigning from UCT, the union said.

“The executive bonuses clearly send a message: ‘Austerity measures do not apply to executives’; the very think tank who came up with it as a way out of UCT’s financial distress.

“As a union we are extremely disheartened by the callousness of UCT executives who considered it ‘fair’ and equitable to boost their bonuses in a work environment where the ordinary staff member have been 'sold' the idea of doing more with less.

“The argument that executives at UCT are paid below the level of executives in private sector is no justification for demanding that ordinary workers tighten their belts while the executive stuff their pockets,” the EU said.

Academic Union (AU) vice-president Kelley Moult, of the Centre for Law and Society, said: “In my view, the process has not only affected workload, but also staff morale.

“Where administrative posts have been lost, departments have had to find other ways of ensuring that the work of administrating courses gets done and this has impacted both administrative and academic staff alike.”

Moholola said the austerity exercise gave an opportunity to employees who wished to leave to do so by accepting voluntary incentivised separation packages.

“No employee was made redundant where savings targets were not met. Acceptance of applications for voluntary severance were only agreed upon if the unit involved could do so in terms of its operational needs,” Moholola said.

Staff at UCT work according to agreed performance indicators that are set with line managers, he added.

“If any employee feels that the load being asked of them is too much, they should raise it within the work environment. There are many avenues to do so, including discussing it with the line manager, HR department, their HR representative, the union or the head of their department,” Moholola said.

The university said it could not comment by deadline on the EU’s allegation that it went through another round of VSP/IER, but this time treated it as retrenchment as it was not voluntary, with some affected staff redeployed, while some were retrenched.