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UCT interim vice-chancellor warns of ‘no work no pay’ for striking union workers

UCT interim vice-chancellor warns of ‘no work no pay’ for striking union workers
UCT staff during the UCT Employees Union protest over salary increases and employee benefits outside the Sarah Baartman Hall on 8 February, 2024 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Misha Jordaan)

UCT interim vice-chancellor says the strike is ‘non-compliant’ but the Employees Union denies this saying it is a point of contention.

A “no work-no pay” rule will be instituted against striking workers at the University of Cape Town (UCT).

This was announced by the interim vice-chancellor Emeritus Professor Daya Reddy in his address to “colleagues and students” on Wednesday evening, 7 February 2024.

This follows a notice that was issued by UCT Employees Union (UCTEU) on Tuesday, 6 January, that they will be embarking on a strike on Thursday, 8 February, because attempts to reach a non-strike resolution agreement with management failed.

The UCTEU mostly represents professional, administrative support and service staff (Pass). Academics belong to a different union.

In the notice, the UCTEU said it had formally declared a protected strike and that the UCT executives were given 48 hours’ notice from Tuesday.

The union said its executive had exhausted all avenues of a non-strike resolution to its dispute and demands.

In its memorandum that is expected to be handed over to management on Thursday, the union said it would seek to address 2023 and 2024 salary increases, release of payments of the performance awards for the June 2022 to May 2023 cycle, disparities relating to bargaining forums between academics and Pass staff, and implementation of the Internal Staff Promotion Policy.

UCT strike

UCT staff protesting outside the Sarah Baartman Hall at University of Cape Town. (Photo: Gallo Images / Misha Jordaan)

Read more in Daily Maverick: UCT union declares a ‘protected strike’ over salary increases, employee benefits

But, Reddy stated that they received from the UCTEU “a non-compliant notice” of intention to embark on a strike.

“The university management finds this regrettable, given our commitment to engaging constructively with the aim of resolving issues amicably, as well as to ensuring that there is no impact on the 2024 academic year,” Reddy wrote.

He stated that employees who wish to participate in this protest action are reminded to comply with the provision of the Labour Relations Act and the picketing rules signed by UCT and the EU.

“Employees are also reminded that the principle of ‘no work no pay’ will apply. UCT reserves the right to interdict a strike that is not in compliance with the provisions of the Labour Relations Act”

He reiterated that UCT strongly upholds the constitutional right to legitimate protest on campus.

“But any such protest action has to be within the bounds of what is lawful: the right to protest should not infringe on others’ rights, including the right to freedom of movement; nor should it result in unlawful and/or violent acts affecting members of the UCT community or university property; or interfere with university business.”

However, the UCTEU told members on Wednesday evening that Reddy’s “non-compliance” remark is a “point of contention” and is rejected “as a form of gaslighting and deflection”.

Measures

Reddy also stated on Wednesday evening that management wished to assure members of the UCT community that they are doing everything possible to ensure that there is minimal impact on the university’s operations.

He stated that management will continue to work towards ensuring that the planned strike action is either not pursued or is brought to a speedy end.

“Should the action proceed, the university will work through the Properties and Services department to ensure that areas that are likely to be affected by limited staff availability — for example, catering, cleaning and transport — continue to operate as efficiently as possible with skeleton staff.”

Faculties, Reddy stated, will also put in place measures to ensure that the impact on the ongoing registration process is minimised.

Security operations across all campuses, he stated, will remain at usual levels as Campus Protection Services is classified as an essential service.

UCT strike

UCT staff during the UCT Employees Union strike. (Photo: Gallo Images / Misha Jordaan)

Action

UCTEU vice-president Tsebo Litabe said negotiations failed because management was not willing to negotiate.

Litabe said they had brought alternative solutions during engagements.

“While we have been experiencing hostility from management that has seen us in and out of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) this has been the worst engagement where responses were simply ‘No’. These matters are historic and have been a point of contention for years,” Litabe said.

He said salary demands are from the 2023 bargaining cycle that was supposed to have been concluded by December 2022.

“We have not even begun 2024 negotiations, yet we are in February 2024. Where salary negations are not concluded, management has historically and annually applied an increase to their discretion. There is no increase for 2024, 0%,” he said.

He said management approves promotions for academics annually and “these are blind to budget conversations”.

Litabe said when management was engaged in discussions that sought to promote Pass staff development that will lead to promotion, they dragged their feet and did not even allocate a budget to that item.

“With the Promotion Policy, we seek to ensure that there is accountability to staff development,” he said.

UCT strike

UCT staff make their grievances clear at a protest at UCT. (Photo: Gallo Images / Misha Jordaan)

Bullied’

Litabe said the UCTEU has recently been bullied by management, terminating a recognition agreement and then forcing them into a Pass bargaining forum.

Their reason, Litabe said, is that there are too many bargaining forums.

“Even in this instance, they are excluding academics, who will continue to have their own bargaining forum and enjoy benefits exclusive to academics.”

He said Pass staff bargaining has never been exclusive.

“All members of the university benefit from the outcome of our negotiations. There are of course exclusive conversations that management do not share with Pass unions and it is for that reason that we are calling for ‘One Bargaining Forum for One University’. Otherwise, management must continue to entertain us in many forums that we had, until they are ready to end the segregation. We are not blind to the fact that executive leadership of universities are mainly academics and as such, academics will continue to have privileges over Pass staff.”

UCT position

Reddy said the university continues to work towards changing with the ultimate goal being that of a single bargaining unit for all staff.

“While we would very much have wanted to conclude these engagements much earlier, negotiations by their very nature can continue for longer than anticipated as more complex issues are thoroughly considered by both parties in the interest of reaching an amicable agreement,” Reddy said.

He said management remains committed to working with the unions towards a speedy conclusion of the negotiations.

“As was the case last year, we have commenced engagements with the relevant Pass unions, the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu), the Democratised Transport Logistics and Allied Workers Union (Detawu) and the EU with a view to finalising a single bargaining forum for pay classes 2-12. We are pleased to indicate that Detawu and Nehawu have already signed the collective single bargaining agreement,” he said.

This work includes the merging of Pass negotiations into a single bargaining unit with effect from 2023. The next phase will be work around merging both the academic and Pass bargaining units.

Reddy said the confidential nature of the engagements precludes him from sharing much of the detail at this stage.

Further updates will be made when the negotiations have been concluded.

UCT strike

A member of UCT’s staff during the UCT Employees Union protest over salary increases and employee benefits outside the Sarah Baartman Hall on 8 February, 2024 in Cape Town. (Photo: Gallo Images / Misha Jordaan)

On demands

Reddy stated that negotiations around the 2024 salary increase are continuing and at an advanced stage with the negotiations for academic staff.

“However, we have not yet received any demands from all the Pass unions, that is Detawu, Nehawu and the UCTEU; and we have not commenced bargaining for Pass staff in pay classes 2-12 due to the EU’s delay in signing the agreement,” Reddy wrote.

The management, he stated, is optimistic that the forthcoming negotiations will result in an agreement that takes into consideration the reality of the university’s current financial situation and the need for staff members to be remunerated appropriately.

Read more in Daily Maverick: UCT academics prepare to strike over ‘insulting’ 3% salary increase

The payment of performance awards, he stated, is contingent on the conclusion of the salary negotiations for the current year.

“It is therefore not feasible at this stage to make any payments prior to an agreement being reached by both parties on the 2024 salary increase.”

He stated that the council approved the Policy Addressing Bullying in 2021.

The policy, Reddy stated, underscores UCT’s commitment to creating, promoting, and maintaining a safe, welcoming and inclusive working, learning and research environment that is free from any form of harassment or bullying.

Concerning the 2023 UCTEU salary and non-salary demands, Reddy stated that the union lodged a dispute on these demands with the CCMA.

He stated that the matter was not successfully resolved at the CCMA on 24 November 2023. “We will continue engaging around these and other issues raised by the EU as part of the continuing engagements with Pass unions. I reiterate that the UCT management remains committed to working towards the amicable resolution of issues raised.” DM

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