By Reyhana Mahomed, Raul Dimitriu & Bianca Silva
Rhodes University and its catering and maintenance staff are currently in a deadlock over a proposed raise in salaries. Wage negotiations between Rhodes University and the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU) have been unsuccessful.
Demands for a 6% increase in salary adjustment and a 10% increase in the salary increment have been denied by the university. If a compromise is not reached within 30 days, the workers will legally be allowed to strike.
NEHAWU has met twice with the Rhodes University staff in the grade one to five salary range and, following the unsuccessful meeting with the University, have filed a dispute referral to the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) on August 8.
In comparison to workers belonging to the government and private sectors, “the salary adjustment is theresult of poorly paid workers in grades one to five,” says Sandile Mandla, NEHAWU representative and organiser. Mandla would like to see disparities equalised, “one industry, one condition of service,” he says.
“All I want is a living wage,” says a housekeeper who wishes to remain anonymous. She has been a Rhodes employee for 23 years. “The union is doing a good job,” she says. “Rhodes University gives us peanuts. They’re giving 4.5%. We need 10% increment,” says Mzukisi Hermans, also a housekeeper.
In addition to believing poorly paid academics are unhappy and may thus be inclined to get involved, Mandla is prepared to engage student movements such as the South African
Students Congress (SASCO) and the SRC.
“Together we can have a total shut down of the university,” says Mandla, explaining that is where the union plans to head if their demands are not met.
Student loyalty could potentially be in demand. In addition to NEHAWU wanting to engage students, in the event of a strike, Sarah Fischer, Rhodes Human Resources Director, believes student involvement would be one possible route that would keep the university running.
Rhodes proposed the involvement of a mediator or arbitrator to facilitate further negotiations. However the workers refused to involve an arbitrator and proceeded to submit their dispute referral to the CCMA.
Dr Ian L’Ange, the director of Residential Operations, refused to comment on the situation as he is part of the wage negotiations team. Vice-principal, Colin Johnson also refused to comment as he doesnot sit on the Wage Negotiations Committees. The Registrar of Finance, Tony Long was in Johannesburg and unable to comment.
The article releasing annual salary figures of Rhodes executive staff in Grocott’s Mail two weeks ago appears to have caused conflict. “[I think that] Grocott’s is correct and these salaries are ridiculous,” says Nkosana Khuselo, a full time shop steward at Rhodes University. Khuselo says Rhodes claims to have no money, yet they can afford to pay higher executive salaries.
Responding to the article Fischer says the impact of the publicity has been “very destructive in the way that it’s been handled”. While she says she encourages transparency, she believes it has to be managed properly. Fischer believes that publishing the names of Rhodes staff members was inappropriate.
A pending response from the CCMA will provide the workers with the correct processes which may lead to engaging in a strike. The Union is required by law to provide the university with 48hours notification prior to initiating protest action. Such actions could include go slows, picketing and stay aways.
NEHAWU should receive a response from the CCMA within 30 days of their submission. If Rhodes and NEHAWU do not compromise, students could expect to see a strike occurring early in September.
As wage disputes ensue between NEHAWU and the university, the National Tertiary Education Staff Union (NTESU), which represents workers from grades 6 and above, is presently conducting discussions with Rhodes regarding salaries.
“We will ask for an official inquiry into the way in which certain finances are managed,” says Dr Michael Drewett, Rhodes NTESU Chairperson. Workers expressed worries about supporting their families on their current salaries and inflation. “Rhodes is holding back for their senior administrators, it’s not that there’s no money,” said Mandla.