In 1991, the then Vice-Chancellor, Dr Stuart Saunders, stated: "The university is always ready to negotiate – All I need to say is that the university's offer maintains our position as a leader among employers. The minimum wage offered is R1 202 per month, plus a 13th cheque, plus free medical aid, plus a housing subsidy, plus other benefits."
It is now 10 years after the democratic transition in which UCT has sought to portray itself as having a proud history of struggle against injustice. What has changed? UCT workers have been retrenched and the work outsourced. Thirteen years later, the workers doing the same work are still paid R1 200 per month. The 13th cheque, the free medical aid, the housing subsidy and the other benefits have all been removed.
The recently released Organisational Climate Survey has shamefully demonstrated the extent to which UCT has so closely mirrored the class, race, gender and other social inequities, inequalities, and injustices of the society around us. During the anti-apartheid struggle, under pressure of events off campus and sometimes from workers and students on campus, UCT was periodically forced to acknowledge this problem.
Archbishop Tutu, referring to the US war against Iraq, has pointed to the problem of small people acknowledging their mistakes. He has spoken of the grossly flawed intelligence on which they claim to have based their decision.
At the time of the retrenchments, the then Vice-Chancellor, Dr Mamphela Ramphele, spoke of the "painful decision" and assured the UCT community that the workers would be employed, retrained, and/or able to start their own businesses. As with so many painful decisions, the pain was all imposed on the victims of the decision by those taking it. The intelligence was obviously and deeply flawed.
UCT has done the wrong thing at great expense to the retrenched workers, the contract workers - and to an ethos and practice, which actually respects human rights and justice. It has paid out R6.7-million in an additional settlement after court rulings against it. If any money was saved, it was at the expense of making this a poorer place.
In the foreword to the Organisational Climate Survey, the Vice-Chancellor reiterates the "wish to develop an institutional culture based on a respect for human dignity and a visible and meaningful respect for diversity, and [a] wish to change the image of UCT as an elitist, white institution", and calls for "a bold step, one that sets the basis for lasting change and leaves little doubt that the University of Cape Town is changing towards becoming a place of high quality for all."
Wouldn't a core part of this be to acknowledge its mistake? Is it not time for UCT to take a "bold step" towards correcting it by directly employing those who work here, with decent wages and conditions? Metro workers have demanded a minimum wage of R3 500 pm plus a thirteenth cheque. Supporting and accepting their demand for all workers at UCT is perhaps a small first step towards the "corrective mechanisms" called for by the Vice-Chancellor.
For more information on and around the survey, visit the UCT website at www.uct.ac.za. Go to the staff portal where you will find a link button "Institutional Climate Survey". Suggestions, comments and complaints can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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