Why the strikes happened
Written by: Eshlin Vedan
During previous years, Rhodes University had a policy of increasing the wages of workers by 6% per year. This year however, management has had to closely review their budget and as a result, they have only offered a 5% increase while other Universities such as the University of Cape Town and Walter Sisulu University have offered their workers a 7% increase.
The National Health Education and Health Workers Union (NEHAWU) and National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) both condemned this offer and a deadlock over wages began on the 3rd of April. Workers at the institution and both trade unions are also unhappy that the future financial plans of the University have not been made available to them. In an official statement released by NEHAWU, the trade union accused the management of Rhodes University of being non-committal to achieving transformation and demanded that the University show respect to its employees.
Photographs: Joshua Stein
Two weeks ago, unions instructed workers to begin a go-slow in order to put pressure on the university management to meet their demands. After they did not achieve their goal, workers were instructed not to report for work on the 10th of April.
In addition to a 7.5% salary increase, NEHAWU are also demanding the removal of Dr lain L’Ange as Executive director of Infrastructure, operations and finance, 100% bursaries at the institution for family members, an increase in housing and danger allowances, the abolishment of Grade 1, 2 and 3 working standards, transport allowances for all workers and job evaluations for workers in grades 6-17.
In their official statement NTEU criticized the University’s management decision to provide a 5% increase to workers as it is below the Consumer Price index of South Africa which is 6.5%. NTEU went on to label this offer as “unsustainable”. NTEU also mentioned the January food inflation rate of 11.4%, Medical Aid fee increases and Government school fees increases this year which are between 10-20% as reasons why staff require a salary increase. They also added that the current offer is unreasonable as according to the dependency ratio of Grahamstown, on average one worker supports 44 non-working people.
On average one worker supports 44 non-working people
Among their demands, NTEU stated that workers be provided a salary increase of 7.5%, the working week revert to 37.5 hours, workers be given one afternoon off per month, a 50% medical aid subsidy after pension and that days taken off due to shut downs should not be included as days off.
The University has made a 6.5% salary increase offer which has been accepted by NTEU and rejected by NEHAWU. On Wednesday 10th May, the University issued an official warning to workers who are official members of NEHAWU, warning them that they may face disciplinary action should they not return to work.
Staff returned to work on Friday, 12th May and resumed full operations with the offer of 6.9%.