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


University of Cape Town Rector Magnificus, Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng.

Esa Alexander, Gallo Images/Sunday Times

  • UCT academic staff go on strike after wage negotiations stalled.
  • Rector Magnificus Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng says the university’s administration worked tirelessly to avert a strike.
  • The Academics Union, which represents the majority of academic staff, questioned its members about the possibility of going on strike.

The Vice Chancellor of the University of Cape Town (UCT), Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng, says the institution will do everything it can to avoid a strike by academic staff after wage negotiations have stalled.

Meanwhile, the Academics’ Union (AU), which represents the majority of the university’s academic staff, surveyed its members about their willingness to take industrial action – and 87% supported a three-day strike.

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Phakeng said in a campus statement Saturday that the university director had worked tirelessly and engaged with the AU over wage negotiations.

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

“In regular contacts with all unions, the board has always remained open and transparent about the university’s financial outlook and its implications for the many areas of our activities,” she said.

Phakeng said the executive remains committed to resolving issues of negotiating agreements with the AU regarding wage demands. The AU is engaged 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 materialized, the AU charged.

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“A process is currently underway to address the issues raised and we are confident that it will soon lead to an acceptable outcome,” said Phakeng.

“It is important to emphasize that the executive approaches each step of the process in accordance with the university’s governing procedures.”

Phakeng added that it was not unusual that the university had not reached an agreement with any of the unions at this time of the year.

“That’s the nature of wage negotiations — it’s not always possible to come to an agreement in an ideal time frame, given the demands of recognized unions and other factors the university must consider,” she said.

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In the vote held by members of the AU this week, 87% expressed support for a three-day strike, with further strikes possible once the Commission for Reconciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) issues a strike certificate.

The AU said working to govern on days when no strike action was planned was also likely. This vote followed the union’s near-unanimous rejection of the 3% offer in a vote held last December. The union said in a statement on Friday: “Scientific staff are committed to strike over what they feel is an insulting and ridiculous 3% pay increase being offered for the year 2023.”