UCT strike: Phakeng says university working to avert strike by academic staff

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University of Cape Town vice-chancellor, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng.
University of Cape Town vice-chancellor, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng.
Esa Alexander, Gallo Images/Sunday Times
  • UCT academic staff are set to go on strike after wage negotiations deadlocked.
  • Vice-chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng says the university's executive has been working tirelessly to avert a strike.
  • The Academics' Union, representing the majority of academic staff, polled its members on the possibility of embarking on strike action.

University of Cape Town (UCT) vice-chancellor, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, says the institution will do everything it can to avert a strike by academic staff after wage negotiations deadlocked. 

Meanwhile, the Academics' Union (AU), which represents the majority of academic staff at the university, polled its members about their willingness to embark on industrial action - and 87% supported a three-day strike.

Phakeng said in a campus communique on Saturday that the university's executive had been working tirelessly and had engaged with the AU over wage negotiations.

"This has been taking place against the backdrop of very challenging and unusual circumstances, including a very difficult current economic climate.

"In regular engagements with all unions, the executive has always remained open and transparent on the university's financial outlook and its implications for the many areas of our operations," she said. 

Phakeng said that the executive remained committed to resolving any bargaining agreement issues with the AU relating to wage demands. The AU has been locked in wage negotiations with the institution after they were offered a 3% salary increase in November. 

Union members rejected the offer, and the institution assured them a revised offer would be forthcoming, but it had not materialised, the AU charged.

READ | The student activist who gaslit security guards at UCT and cost them their jobs

"There is currently an ongoing process to address the issues that have arisen, and we are confident that it will yield an acceptable outcome soon," Phakeng said.

"It is important to emphasise that the executive is approaching every step of the process in compliance with the university's governance procedures."

Phakeng added it was not unusual for the university not to have reached an agreement with any of the unions at this point of the year.

"Such is the nature of wage negotiations – it is not always possible to reach an agreement within an ideal timeframe given the demands from recognised unions and other factors that the university needs to consider," she said. 

In the vote taken by members of the AU this week, 87% expressed support for a three-day strike, with potential further strikes, as soon as the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) issued a strike certificate. 

The AU said working to rule on days when there was no strike action planned was also likely.This vote followed the union's near-unanimous rejection of the 3% offer in a vote held in December last year.The union said in a statement on Friday: "Academic staff are committed to going on strike over what they feel is an insulting and derisory pay increase of 3% offered for the 2023 year."

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