Staff salary bill compromises teaching and learning : DUT management

25 January 2018 - 14:52 By Suthentira Govender
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Education for students at the embattled Durban University of Technology will be compromised if the institution accedes to employees’ salary demands.

As disgruntled staffers protested outside vice-chancellor Professor Thandwa Mthembu’s office on Thursday‚ under the watchful eye of heavily-armed private security officers‚ the institution briefed the media on the impasse between management and unions‚ saying it was in a poor financial state.

They say student debt and rising infrastructure costs make it unfeasible to meet union demands. The strike over wage increases entered its ninth day‚ with determined academic and administration workers refusing to budge on their 10% wage increase demand.

Three unions - including the National Education‚ Health and Allied Workers’ Union‚ Tertiary Education National Union of South Africa and National Tertiary Education Union - urged staff not to return to work until management conceded to its demands. Lecturers are due to start on February 5.

They have also called for vice-chancellor Mthembu to step down‚ claiming they have no confidence in his leadership.

One staffer‚ who did not want to be named said employees were "standing strong".

“The university is not being fair with its offer. We are tired‚ but we will continue fighting even though there is a no work no pay policy. It seem the vice-chancellor is playing hard ball.”

Wiseman Madinane‚ chairman of DUT’s council‚ said the university had tried to adhere strictly to the Department of Higher Education and Training’s guidelines when it came to salaries.

“They stipulate that we should maintain the cost of salaries between 58% and 62% of our total costs.”

Madinane said DUT had “long passed that band”‚ and was edging towards 70%.

“What it means every year is that the cost of salaries is unfortunately comprising vital activities of the university. It compromises the infrastructure programmes. Our buildings are not how they should look including lecture rooms and laboratories where learning and teaching takes place.”

He said council met on Wednesday to see how it could intervene to “break the back” of the strike.

Mthembu said that while the institution had revised its offer four times‚ the last being 6%‚ “the unions have not moved an inch".

“The chairman referred to the 58% to 62% range‚ we should be at. According to our budget for 2018‚ we are at 68%. We are far above the limit of 62%. If the university were to give what the unions want‚ that would push that figure to about 72%. I don’t think that it would show our council and management as accountable and responsible to the Department of Higher Education‚ if we are seen to be moving much further away from the limit of 62%.”

Mthembu said unions had suggested that the university dip it into its reserves of over R400-million to pay increases.

“What has not been factored into that argument by the unions‚ is that council has made it clear that with the state of our infrastructure‚ we cannot keep on bulging our salary bill.”

Mthembu said an infrastructure review in 2014 revealed that DUT required about R1.2-billion‚ adding the figure would “probably more now since this was four years ago". And this to keep its real estate in an acceptable condition.

“DUT’s current condition speaks for itself.”

As of November 2017‚ DUT’s student debt stood at R220-million‚ with an accumulative debt for the last three years at over R600-million.

“We are not denying that university has reserves. But if we take into consideration the maintenance and infrastructure backlogs‚ if you take into consideration student debt.. it means that there is a hole in our budget. The net-effect of having R489-million as reserves‚ having a R1.2-billion bill for maintenance‚ having a R625-million student debt that has not been paid over a number of years‚ you can work the arithmetic there.”

“Even if this university had billions‚ you would have to go back to the department’s norms has advised we use on what the proportional salaries should be relative to tuition income and the block grant.”

Madinane accused the unions of negotiating in bad faith and was concentrating on removing Mthembu‚ rather than focusing on the salary dispute.

“The unions claim in memorandum that the vice-chancellor is not fit for office. We put in place a performance contract when Professor Mthembu joined us in 2016. We did a review towards the 2017‚ we interviewed staff‚ students‚ unions‚ convocation. That review overwhelming said that he is the right man for the job.”

Council said the issue is “misplaced“.

Madinane added: “Negotiations are somewhat toxic. We don’t believe that in the form and shape‚ the negotiations have been handled are going to yield any result.”

He said a professional mediator was required to take negotiations forward.

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