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UCT academics prepare to strike over ‘insulting’ 3% salary increase

UCT academics prepare to strike over ‘insulting’ 3% salary increase
The University of Cape Town has reached a salary-increase deal with its Academics' Union. (Photo: Gallo Images / Jacques Stander)

The UCT Academics' Union claims the increase was ‘an insult’ compared to other universities’ increases, and is now waiting to hear if they can go on strike. 

The University of Cape Town (UCT) Academics Union would likely confirm by Tuesday 24 January if they would be going on strike over a wage dispute with the university. 

The union’s leader of its salary bargaining team Kelley Moult told Daily Maverick the university and union are set to meet at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) on Tuesday before a possible strike certificate is issued. 

According to the union, this would be the first-ever strike by academic staff in the university’s history. 

Last week, the union sent out a notice stating their contempt over a 3% salary increase allocated to them by the university. In a statement, the union described the increase as “insulting and derisory”. 

The Union stated that the proposed increase is not enough to cope with increasing costs of living, specifically referencing the 2022 Consumer Price Inflation which was 6.9%. The union has around 690 members, confirmed Moult and added that around 85% have indicated they would be willing to embark on strike action. 

Moult confirmed to Daily Maverick on Monday 23 January the union was waiting for another meeting with the university at the CCMA at which the university could possibly make another salary offer. 

However, if a deal cannot be reached and the CCMA provides a legally required strike certificate, the union will proceed. Moult explained to Daily Maverick if the union was provided with a strike certificate by the CCMA, it would send a required 48 notice to UCT with an intention to strike. Moult confirmed the earliest the union could strike was on Friday, depending on organising factors. 


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The possible strike comes when first-year registration is set to take place from Tuesday. 

In a statement released on Sunday, UCT’s Student Representative Council (SRC) expressed that they are in support of all employees being paid in line with inflation rates. However, the SRC also expressed that they find the union’s official statement to be “elitist” — due to the union’s comments over   UCT budgeting a R183-million increase for student financial aid. The AU {the union} claimed their 3% salary increase is an “insult” seeing as the university can afford a 106% increase for student financial aid. The SRC believes this was an unnecessary inclusion in the statement and said the student population “will not be treated as scapegoats for the institution’s lack of planning to address increases in the compensation for academic staff.”

In response to a planned strike, UCT Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng said the university executive was working ‘tirelessly’ and engaged the union since late last year over the wage negotiations. “This has been taking place against the backdrop of very challenging and unusual circumstances, including a very difficult current economic climate,” Phakeng said in a statement issued on the weekend. “In regular engagements with all unions, the executive has always remained open and transparent on the university’s financial outlook and its implications for the many areas of our operations,” she said. 

UCT vice-chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng.

University of Cape Town vice-chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sunday Times / Esa Alexander)

The university executive remained committed to resolving any issues related to the bargaining engagements with the union as it related to wage demands, said Phakeng. 

“We wish to assure the campus community that the executive will do everything possible to, at best, avert any possible staff protest action and to ensure that there is minimal to no impact on university activities. All university activities are scheduled to continue as planned,” she said. 

The top-rated university has been under scrutiny amid recent allegations of governance instability by top management. 

Read in Daily Maverick: “Dark days: Accusations of capture and governance instability rock UCT”. DM

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  • Mervyn Bennun says:

    I am a South African. During the last years before I returned to South Africa from exile in the UK in 2000, I had the honour to be the secretary of the branch of the Association of University Teachers at the university where I was a member of the academic staff. There are two matters which I have never understood since returning and which come from this experience, and display a selfish elitism. I cannot understand why there is not a single national union in higher education negotiating for equal pay; and why, in all the “Fees must fall” uproar, there was not a murmur on behalf of South Africa’s primary education sector. The benefits to less famous South African universities than UCT of better paid staff are obvious; and as for primary education, how to describe the depth of shame that South Africa should feel about schools which even lack books and safe toilets? The AUT, incidentally, merged with another union to form the University and College Union in 2006. Perhaps there is a lesson there too.

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