On Monday, Nehawu shop stewards spent the morning in a meeting with Iziko Museum management discussing issues that have repeatedly been raised, while Iziko employees picketed outside during their lunch hour.
“These issues have been raised at least for three years now; these aren’t issues that just popped out,” said Lynn Abrahams, a curator at Iziko and a Nehawu secretary-general. The issues range from employees having unequal benefits to wage increases.
Abrahams, who has been working at Iziko for five years, says the fact that people from entry-level to senior-level positions joined the picket “shows that people are fed up”.
“How can you give people unequal benefits? One person gets R1,000 housing allowance, another one gets R500. Part of looking after this heritage means also looking after your staff,” Abrahams told Daily Maverick.
Iziko Museums of South Africa operates 11 national museums in Cape Town. They include the Bo-Kaap Museum, Groot Constantia Manor House, South African Museum and Planetarium and the Maritime Centre.
According to the 2018/19 annual report, Iziko Museum has 226 employees. A 2018 South African Cultural Observatory study found that the arts and culture industry generates one million jobs.
A collections assistant who was present at the picket is frustrated with the housing allowance and the criteria that need to be met to access the allowance.
“When they put out an advertisement they say that a housing allowance is part of the benefits, but once you get the job they tell you that the housing allowance is conditional; you need to get a bond first in order to qualify for the housing allowance.
“Due to the salary that a lot of staff get here, myself included, it’s impossible to get a bond. For instance, I’ve been working here for almost eight years but I don’t qualify to get a bond,” said the collections assistant, who did not wish to be named.
In response to queries regarding the discrepancies in benefits, Iziko Museum’s CEO, Rooksana Omar, said the previous council was “fully aware of the disparities [and] made a decision to undertake a process to appoint an independent professional law firm to investigate the entire institution’s benefits structure”.
According to Iziko’s 2018/19 annual report, its expenditure on housing allowances decreased from R364,000 to R360,000. The report says the decrease was due to resignations. The number of employees who left Iziko, for reasons ranging from their contracts expiring to retirement, was just under 20%.
“What we need to think about is what Iziko represents in South Africa. This place holds our history and this kind of behaviour is not what we expect from an institution like this,” said Molebatsi Tuka, a Nehawu regional organiser.
Tuka said Iziko has given employees a 5% wage increase, which they are not happy with.
A list of demands sent to management includes a demand for a 12% increase of wages “across the board” and for “consistent and equal benefits for all employees”.
“Iziko Council is committed to seeking properly informed legal and financial solutions. Once the council has a clearer direction, interaction with staff will proceed. The matters that have emerged are complex and require expert advice to overcome the disparities inherited from the past. This matter is not unique to Iziko,” said Omar.
At Robben Island Museum, another heritage site, employees went on a strike in January 2020 demanding a 9% wage increase. Management offered a 6.5% wage increase, which employees rejected.
Iziko also requires staff to pay for parking.
“Other places… like Artscape and Robben Island, they don’t treat their staff like this. When we asked why we have to pay for parking, they said it’s to raise funds for the year-end function, but we didn’t even have one last year,” said Abrahams.
“The key challenge Iziko faces is an increasing lack of adequate resources,” reads the 2018/19 annual report.
“The Department of Arts and Culture subsidy has not been reviewed, except for a small annual increase, since 2002, and currently, this subsidy is only sufficient to cover our personnel budget.”
The museum’s struggles with funding are unsurprising as the arts and culture sector is often under-funded. In a research report on the arts industry, one of the issues highlighted was funding.
“Grant funding currently plays a relatively minor role in the economics of the sector, contributing less than a percentage of the total turnover of the sector,” reads the report.
The auditor-general’s report found that “despite the adverse economic climate”, Iziko’s results were satisfactory. Investments, cash and cash equivalents have increased by 15% from about R120-million to R139-million. These holdings are due mainly to funds received from donors.
Abrahams says it’s no use working in a museum that is doing so well but doesn’t treat its staff properly.
Tuka says that the pickets will continue on Tuesday 18 February 2020, and if they haven’t reached a resolution at the end of Tuesday’s meeting, there will be another protest on Wednesday. DM
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