NEWS | CAPE TOWN 

UCT workers to strike over working conditions

Students plan to shut down campus

Photo of students with poster
UCT students demanded in 2016 that outsourced workers be brought onto the staff. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks
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Members of the South African Liberated Public Sector Workers’ Union (Salipswu) at the University of Cape Town plan to strike on Wednesday over demands for better working conditions.

Some students have threatened to close the university down in support of the strike, following a meeting on the issue at Graça Residence on Monday.

Salipswu organiser Abraham Agulhas said he hoped UCT would meet the union’s demands before the 48-hour strike notice period expires on Wednesday afternoon. He said so far the negotiations had been “process without substance”.

Salipswu is demanding regular seven-hour shifts for workers who currently work four-hour shifts; a 25% shift allowance; and double time for working Sundays and public holidays. The union also wants pregnant women to be allowed to work “straight shifts” instead of alternating between morning, afternoon, and night shifts. Many of the workers and shift workers involved were brought onto the UCT payroll after pressure by unions and student activists in 2016.

The National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU)) had not yet informed Salipswu whether or not its members would join the strike, Agulhas said.

He said of the approximately 1,600 insourced workers at UCT, 515 were members of Salipswu, 418 were members of Nehawu and 300 were members of the University and Allied Workers’ Union.

The provincial secretary of Nehawu, Eric Kweleta, said the union was still negotiating with the university on shifts and benefits. “It is something that is not going to just be corrected overnight.”

In an emailed announcement today, UCT stated, “The UCT executive believes that significant progress has been made in resolving these issues and remains committed to continue negotiations with unions and staff.”

In a statement on Monday, UCT said many of the claims about the staff members’ conditions of service were “incorrect”. Since the insourcing process in 2016, 61 residence cleaning staff were insourced by UCT, the university said. These workers were hired following an agreement between the university and Nehawu as permanent staff to work four-hour days when regular staff members were on leave, UCT said. The workers received “generous leave conditions, retirement funding, and staff tuition rates, among others”.

In an email to students last Friday, the Student Representative Council (SRC) said the university was as “exploitive” as it had been before the insourcing process.

“The kitchen staff are understaffed and overworked. The cleaners are tasked to work with dangerous chemicals without necessary protective gear nor medical aid.” The SRC also noted concerns relating to staff benefits.

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