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Recap: Rhodes staff strike demanding wage increase

Lucas Nowicki

In the early hours of Tuesday morning, staff members at the university currently known as Rhodes (UCKAR) belonging to the National Education Health and Allied Union (NEHAWU) and National Tertiary Education Staff Union (NTEU) went on strike and marched to the administration building to deliver a memorandum demanding a 7,5% pay increase, after rejecting the university’s previous offer of 5%.

The university has been engaged in negotiations with the unions for the last 18 months, attempting to find a solution which satisfies both parties. UCKAR is under huge financial strain, due to dwindling government subsidies and other financial pressures but the offered  5% wage increase was a bitter pill to swallow for staff. The offer was rejected by the unions, who then organised the strike and memorandum calling for the university to meet their demands.

Staff marched through lower campus singing and holding posters, and gathered outside the administration building at 11am to deliver their memorandum to the administration of the University. Their demands include; a R450 transport allowance, skilled training provided by the institution, a 7% wage increase, decrease in working hours, 50% medical subsidy after retirement, a 2 year moratorium on retrenchments, access to the university’s financial documents in notes and a name change of the institution.

Many of the staff held posters referencing the fact that UCKAR has the best pass rate per capita in South Africa, but the staff are paid in the 20th percentile of universities in South Africa. Workers are becoming increasingly worried about their ability to support their families and community. UCKAR staff and workers support multiple family members of their salaries, but as inflation increases beyond the salary increases, this is becoming more and more difficult.

The dining halls were closed throughout the day with E-Wallet money issued to students. Most lectures and tutorials went ahead, however some were cancelled due to lecture theatres and areas of administration being locked through portions of the day.

Dr Iain L’Ange, Executive Director of the Infrastructure, Finance and Operations Division, signed the memorandum and staff then conceded that the university would function as usual, but warned that if the demands are not met in the next 7 days there will be a full shutdown of the university.

 

The Student’s Representative Council held an emergency meeting on Tuesday evening to engage in discussions around the staff protests and how to move forward as a student body.

It remains to be seen what the way forward is. Staff are continuing a go-slow on work from 26 April, affecting dining halls and residences.

 

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