UCT workers demand R10 000 basic salary, end to outsourcing

2015-10-06 19:00
(Tammy Petersen, News24)

(Tammy Petersen, News24)

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Cape Town - University of Cape Town workers protested on the university campus on Tuesday, demanding a basic salary of R10 000 and that outsourcing be stopped.

National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union members, with student movement Rhodes Must Fall, slammed the system, insisting the vast majority of cafeteria, bookshop, maintenance workers, cleaners, catering staff, security workers and landscapers are employed by contractors instead of the university, leading to private-sector companies "making profit out of public-sector funding and the exploited labour of workers".

These contracted service workers, who are "not counted on the university’s official employment rolls and who are rarely mentioned in the public discourse, constitute the university’s invisible workforce", said Monica Gqoji, secretary of the UCT Joint Shop Stewards.

Workers take home "poverty wages", are unilaterally transferred from contract to contract, face exploitation and don’t enjoy proper benefits such as medical aid, while their dependants aren't given proper study benefits, she said.

"UCT is renowned for innovation and forward thinking but when it comes to fair labour practices, the conduct of private companies and workers’ rights in private companies, the university is very much in the Stone Age.

"The state of play at the university now since 1994 is that the rich are getting richer and the working poor are being exploited with contracts that aren't worth the paper they’re written on. Yet, consistent with its past history, the university can help fight inequality and foster inclusive growth by paying contracted workers better wages and [offering] improved benefits."

The union is demanding that the university employ all workers currently in outsourced services, pay them a basic salary of R10 000 and offer benefits such as study opportunities.

UCT spokesperson Patricia Lucas said the UCT Council called for a review of outsourcing in 2014.

"The report... estimates that the total additional costs of insourcing all services at the university would be R58m a year, with additional up-front asset purchase costs of R68m. The university will not be able to absorb this cost without raising student tuition fees significantly and this would impair student access to UCT," she said.

"In addition, the report finds that the efficiency of the services that are outsourced at UCT is another strong argument to retain the policy, as it allows the university to concentrate on our core focus of teaching and research."

In response to allegations that workers' wages were significantly reduced by outsourcing, Lucas said the UCT minimum wage for outsourced workers is R5 018 a month.

"The Sectoral Determination hourly rate is R16.98. This amounts to just under R3 000 per month on the basis of a 40-hour working week; 4.33 weeks per month. The UCT minimum is at least 66% higher than that prescribed by the minister of labour in this sector," she said.

Meanwhile, similar protests took place at Wits and the University of Johannesburg.

Claire Ceruti, a member of the Persistent Solidarity Forum at UJ, said the people who kept universities from turning into cesspits are being exploited by the contractors who employ them.

"This paradise that we aspire to has been built on a hell for other people," she said.

Cleaners go home with R2 600 a month and receive no pension or medical aid, she said. Unlike other staff at the university, they receive no discounts on tuition fees if they want to send their children to the institution.

She said people like cleaners and security guards worked for up to 15 years but do not earn enough to send their children to university.

Read more on:    uct  |  cape town  |  university fees

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