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Wits, UNISA and labour unions reach wage deal just days before school starts

Thabo Mohlala

The recent settlements of labour disputes between unions and the management teams at Unisa and Wits might have been forced by the impending start of the academic year next week Monday.

Last week Unisa signed a settlement offer with National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) following a protracted strike action that paralysed the registration process.

Commenting on their settlement with Unisa management, Nehawu’s Ntsako Nombelani told Inside Education that their strike action was well coordinated.

He said it was part of their strategy to ensure any strike action they embarked on resulted in the maximum impact on the employer and that they planned it to coincide with an important activity, which at this time of the year at universities, was the student registration process.

No credible academic year can commence without properly registered students and this seems to have been what compelled the university management to settle with the unions.

In the recent past, several universities were rocked by disruptions mainly spearheaded by students and have conceded on several fronts to avert the complete shutdown of activities on their campuses.

Wits University settled a week-long strike action embarked upon by four labour unions. These include Nehawu, National Metal Workers Union of South Africa (Numsa), the Administrative, Library and Technical Staff Association (ALTSA), the Academic Staff Association of Wits University (Asawu).

The workers originally demanded 9% salary increase while Wits management offered 6.8%. The unions also demanded to be part of the decision-making in relation to performance incentives.

In the statement released yesterday, Nehawu confirmed the new salary scales secured after the strike action. Nehawu’s Khaya Xaba said after intense negotiations the parties agreed to settle on wage increases of between 7% and 10%.

He said dog handlers, drivers, meal allowance per shift, night shift and night allowances would increase by 10%.

He added the parties also agreed to formulate a workable plan to “turn Wits into a high-performance institution and motivate workers beyond salary increases”.

Wits’ Buhle Zuma said yesterday, “the salary increase agreement is differentiated from 7% to 9.2% depending on the employee’s grade, including a provision for performance. ALTSA, ASAWU and the University have indicated their intention to refer management’s 2018 salary offer, which includes a provision for performance, for arbitration”.

Asked if they signed with the labour unions to avoid the disruption of the start of classes next week, Zuma denied they were under any pressure to settle against their will. She said the continued labour action was not benefiting any of the parties involved and they all realised the need to find one another. She conceded this was a relief and also removed one of the biggest hurdles that would have impacted the classes next week.

At the time of publishing, Durban University of Technology (DUT), was the only institution that was yet to settle its dispute with the striking workers, most of whom belong to Nehawu.

Negotiations look set to drag on considering the huge gap between the parties where workers demanding a 10% salary increase while the university offered 4%.

Nehawu spoke tough and vowed not to back down until their salary demands were met by management.

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