By Azwihangwisi Mufamadi
The past few weeks saw yet another attempt by the Rhodes University staff (NEHAWU members) to get their salaries increased by 10%. I learnt this after attending the NEHAWU members’ meeting at the lawn outside the Union building. The meeting was women’s show. In comparison to women, men were very passive to say the least. However, the meeting would have been incomplete without some surprises. It was towards the end of the meeting when one of the SASCO representatives stood up and extended the organisation’s support for the workers’ struggle. I have to admit, the guy has learnt a lot from politics and politicians themselves. Not only has he mastered the art of using whatever platform is available to promote the organisation but he also masters that art of choosing his words carefully and romanticising his listeners by telling them what they want to hear. I admire how committed these guys are to SASCO. “SASCO comes before everything; their lives would rather fall apart while SASCO is coming together,” once said a friend of mine.
Enough about SASCO and back to the matter. According to one of the shop stewards who were involved in the negotiations between the staff members and the university, the university is only willing to give them a 5.4% salary increase and that is their final offer. For someone who is earning less than five thousand, 5.4% salary increase is next to nothing. With inflation and tax this offer is like a teaspoon of sugar into the ocean, it does not make any difference although science students would argue that it does. If 5.4% salary increase is peanuts to someone who earns fifty thousands, it is even smaller for someone who earns less than five thousand.
Although it is not realistic to expect any party to be fair in wage negotiations, it is worth noting that these workers are the force behind the running of some of the most important services in campus. They are the same workers who wake up early everyday, leaving their families behind, to make sure that students have bacon and egg for breakfast. Ironically they are also the same people who ensure that there is a clean table and coffee when they salaries are being discussed.
If the wage negotiations between the university and its workers continue to be fruitless and workers go on a strike, students who are in residents are the ones who would feel the impact more than those in digs. Although one can argue that the university would hire casual workers, how long will this process take and what will be happening to students during this process.
I can’t imagine how the lecture theatres would look like without people to look after them. I shudder to think how the residence would look and smell.