/ 27 August 2012

Wits strike set to continue until demands are met

Salary negotiations are back on track at Wits University
Salary negotiations are back on track at Wits University

Kezia Lewins, a sociology lecturer who speaks for the striking unions, told the Mail & Guardian that although management had agreed to return to the negotiating table, unions would continue industrial action until increment demands were met.

A 9% increase for support staff tops the unions' demands. Academics are also seeking an increase in funds for research. It is understood that Wits' management agreed on other demands, such as opening a childcare facility on campus and more parking bays.

After four weeks of no negotiations, Lewins said unions received an invitation from management over the past weekend to resume talks. Negotiations ground to a halt on August 1, a day before hundreds of staff members went on strike.

The negotiations began on Monday. "Unions have formally accepted the invitation for negotiations, but the strike will continue as a way of putting pressure to management to meet demands,” said Lewins.

Tuesday's strike will involve staff from all three unions, representing staff across academic, administration and support operations. The Academic Staff Association of Wits University (Asawu) was the first to declare Tuesday's strike, while the Administrative Library and Technical Staff Association (Altsa) and the Wits branch of the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) announced last Wednesday they would also join.

It will be the second time this month that the unions embark on strike together. David Dickinson, Asawu’s president, described the unions' unity as "historical". "It's the first time academics go on strike in the history of the university. We've never had all three unions on strike."

Last week Asawu accused Wits' management of being "intransigent" for refusing to return to the negotiation table. But management has maintained negotiations stopped after unions walked out of a meeting a day before their first strike.

Furthermore, management did not have the mandate from the council, the highest structure in the university, to negotiate on salary increase demands, according to Wits spokesperson Shirona Patel.

The university’s senate asked the council last Thursday to order management to go back to negotiations. "My feeling is that, now with negotiations having opened, things would be resolved soon," said Patel.

Striking staff have planned pickets at the main campus, as well as five other campuses. Support and administrative operations are expected to grind to a halt, but not all classes will be disrupted. "Even during the first strike at least 75% of the classes went ahead," Patel said.