“Ons CPUT werkers is gatvol”
Workers protest at graduation ceremony, demanding an 8% wage increase
A few hundred employees of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) protested outside a graduation ceremony at the Bellville campus today, demanding an 8% wage increase instead of the 7% they are being offered, equal benefits and an increase in the housing allowance.
Graduating students and their parents looked on as protesters, mostly from the Joint Unions Task Team which consists of members of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu), Cape Peninsula University Employees Union (CPUEU) and National Tertiary Education Union, sang and danced outside the hall. They were holding placards with statements on them such as, “CPUT management, ons CPUT workers is gatvol”, “Don’t give us peanuts, we are not monkeys”, “CPUT management to hell with annual mediocre increases” and “My take home pay can’t take me home”.
Ben Turner, who is the chairperson of CPUEU, said negotiations started in April last year over the salary increases and conditions of service for 2016.
The three unions had signed off an 8% salary increase in August last year, he said. But university management had failed to present this to the university council for approval. The unions had then demanded a meeting with the vice-chancellor, who had promised to send it to the council. “He never did. In January I and the chairpersons of the other two unions demanded a meeting with the Human Resources Committee of Council. We had the meeting and subsequent to that they wrote to us to offer the 7% for the first time,” said Turner.
The unions had now gone to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration.
Staff also claim that following the merger 10 years ago between various institutions that resulted in CPUT as it is today, staff from different institutions received different leave and retirement benefits and this is still the case 10 years later.
Turner said the unions had reported the problem to the Department of Labour and the Parliamentary Oversight Committee on Higher Education.
Quinton Summers has worked at the university for 18 years in student affairs and says the university makes promises but increases aren’t keeping up with inflation.
“As the labour force of the University we have been putting up with it for very long… The message is clear, people have had enough. We have put up with management’s measly increases for too long. There are many people amongst us – single mothers, breadwinners who are really battling. They just can’t make ends meet any longer,” said Summers.
Sello Nkwane, Deputy Chair of Nehawu’s CPUT branch, said he believed the protest action would be successful. The university had breached the agreement, he said.
The problem was not just the increase but “a package of issues”.
Protesters booed Vice Chancellor Prins Nevhutalu when he came to receive their memorandum of demands. In his address Nevhutalu acknowledged the disparities between employees’ benefits, saying that during the merger “people swept things under the carpet” and that some staff benefit more than others.
“I am committed to ensure that every staff member at CPUT gets treated under the same conditions – that’s fair,” he said.
He spoke about the student protests last year and the disruptions these had caused. “Our council has written off debt of R111 million – that is money that we don’t have,” said Nevhutalu.
He said he was “also aware of the financial difficulties that all of us face”.
“That’s why we took a position as the executive that we will implement the 7%,” he said. Nevhutalu said this decision had been taken in consultation with the representatives of the union at the beginning of the year. But Turner denied this.
“We have never said that we agreed to the 7%, as the VC indicated now,” he said.
He said it was not true that the university did not have money, as CPUT “wasted” money on writing off student debt and lowering residence fees.
In a statement Nevhutalu released this afternoon he said “a prolonged strike is in no one’s interest and I am hopeful that the current impasse can be resolved in an amicable and speedy way”.
A special meeting of the Human Resources Committee had been scheduled for 15 April.
“Whatever agreement we come to, it is important that the principle of institutional sustainability always be kept in sharp focus. It will not be in the staff’s best interests to take a popular short term decision which will not be sustainable in the long term,” he said.
The protesters are set to reconvene tomorrow and have threatened to shut down the university if management does not respond to their demands.
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