By The Dawn News / January 30, 2018
For the last week, workers from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg have been on strike demanding that they be paid a living wage with their demand of a 12% increase to their salaries. Workers from the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) joined the strike and vowed to intensify it.
Group Up, a South African news agency, published an article with updates on the negotiations with the University administration and below are the statements about the strike by NUMSA.
Union leader calls for campus to be made ungovernable on Tuesday
Negotiations between University of Witwatersrand (Wits) management and workers’ unions ended in a stalemate on Monday. The unions have demanded that the lowest earning staff member earn about R10,000 as opposed to R7,000 a month.
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), the majority union at Wits, and the National Health Education & Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU) represented the workers at the meeting.
The strike started last week Tuesday when the workers demanded a 12% increase in salaries, but Wits offered 8%.
While the negotiations were taking place, about 200 workers waited in Solomon Mahlangu House for Wits management to sign an agreement that had apparently been reached on the weekend. The agreement was that workers in lower level positions would receive a 9.2% increase while the higher level positions would receive a 7.8% increase.
Chairperson of NEHAWU Wits branch, Paati Sam Mangena, came out of the negotiations to inform the workers of the progress. He told the crowd of workers that there were some “discrepancies” in the agreement Wits management had drafted so they had to send the unions’ lawyers to read through it thoroughly.
One of those discrepancies was that workers would not be paid for time on strike. Mangena said the union leaders negotiated that the strike days be taken from the workers’ leave days, instead of their salary which Wits agreed to.
He said the second discrepancy was that the union wanted to “harmonise salaries”, claiming that some workers were paid more based on their race.
One worker expressed her frustration about the lack of progress. “We have been striking since last Tuesday and nothing is happening. Why were we instructed not to disrupt the meeting because everything is operating as normal now,” she said.
Mangena said the workers could not disrupt because Wits interdicted the strike so anyone who disrupted would be taken to court. He also said that if there were any disruptions, Wits would ensure that the workers were banned from the property and they would not be able to take other workers out of their posts if it came to that.
A technician at Wits, who asked to remain anonymous, told GroundUp that he had been working at Wits for 36 years. He said he was striking because he had five children and a wife to take care of but the salary he was getting was barely enough to get him through the month.
“We are hungry and hungry people are angry people. If [Vice-Chancellor Adam] Habib does not sign the agreement today, we will shut down this university,” he said.
But Columbus Ncuthe, NEHAWU Gauteng Chairperson, told GroundUp that the unions and Wits management had agreed on the salary increases but had not agreed that the entry level positions should earn at least R124,000 per annum.
“Wits said they could not sign because our demand was a policy issue and they would have to create a committee to deal with that. We said the strike will continue until we have a signed agreement, so the strike continues tomorrow,” said Ncuthe.
In his address to the workers, Ncuthe said they should be ready to “intensify” the strike and make the campus “ungovernable” on Tuesday.
The meeting between the unions and Wits management ended late and we were unable to get comment from management in time for publication.
NUMSA meets Wits management on Monday over the strike
Phakamile Hlubi-Majola, Acting NUMSA National Spokesperson, 28 January 2018
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) will be meeting with Wits management on Monday afternoon to discuss the latest wage offer. Earlier today we met with our members to share details of the offer. The proposal includes an increase of at least 7% for the higher earners, and an increase of 9.2% for the lowest paid workers in grade 16 and 17. It also includes a proposal to end the low wages which were paid to workers who used to be under labour brokers
Details are as follows:
- Wits has offered to increase the salaries of workers between grade 9-15 by 7.80%
- Workers in grade 16 and 17 were formerly employed by labour brokers and received the lowest salaries of all employees at Wits. Because of the pressure we put on Wits management, they have offered them a 9.20% increase.
- Furthermore the university has proposed to establish a task team to integrate these workers fully into grade 15 by July this year. This will bring the lowest paid workers closer to the goal of achieving a living wage. They will earn the same as other workers who fulfill the same job description.
- The proposal includes the establishment of a task team to ensure that these workers have been absorbed into grade 15 by July this year.
- The ‘No work no pay’ principle will not apply to those who have leave days in January which can be used to cover for their absence
Whilst these are positive developments, our members have vowed not to return to work until the agreement is signed by all parties to make it legally binding. Our members will continue to picket peacefully on campus until the agreement has been formalized.
Only once that is done, will the strike be called off. We will be meeting with Management on Monday afternoon to finalize the agreement.
The struggle continues!
NUMSA vows to intensify the strike at Wits!
Phakamile Hlubi-Majola, NUMSA Acting spokesperson, 27 January 2018
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) will intensify the strike at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. The management at the institution refuses to treat workers like human beings and pay them a living wage.
We also demand an end to labour brokers and insourcing. NUMSA won a labour appeals court decision last year which confirms that temporary workers become permanent employees after 3 months. We are determined to eradicate precarious forms of employment from all workplaces once and for all.
Below are some of our demands:
- We demand a 12% increase across the board, whilst the university is only offering 8%
- We demand that 85 contract workers be insourced immediately.
- We demand that they abolish grade 16 and 17 so that the lowest earners wages can increase from R7500 to R9000 per month.
- We demand that the night shift allowance be increased from R360 to R800
We are aware that the strike will have an impact on learning and teaching when the university opens on Monday. However, this was a situation created by a stubborn management team. Wits University is shamelessly perpetuating inequality and exploitation by refusing to pay a living wage. Our members are some of the lowest earners and they had no choice but to go on strike.
Furthermore, we do not accept their claims of poverty because the university seems to have an unlimited budget for bouncers which are used to harass students who are fighting for free education.
We are grateful for the solidarity which the students have shown us during the strike. The majority of them are children of working class parents and therefore they support us as we fight for dignity and equality for our families at Wits University. We pledge our support and solidarity for their struggle to access free education.
NUMSA will intensify the strike and therefore on Sunday we will stage a picket and protest on campus to highlight our demands.
The struggle continues!