Academic Association to unionise

15 October 2007

The Academic Association (AA) is set to become a union. In a poll conducted from 30 July to 3 August, a decisive 80% of the votes were in favour of unionising. Over half of the AA membership responded to the poll.

An initial “temperature check” poll was taken in April to gauge the extent of support for unionising. Almost 29% of the AA's membership responded, with an overwhelming 21% favouring the move towards forming a union. Only 1.5% registered an opposition to the proposal, with just over 6% abstaining.

The next step for the AA executive is to draft a constitution for the union and consult with lawyers, which they plan to do before the end of the year. The AA will set up a collective agreement with the university after the new constitution has been adopted and they have registered themselves as a trade union with the Registrar at the Labour office.

Not all AA members are in favour of the move, however. Those in opposition believe that the university and academics have always engaged in a collegial manner, since the university is managed by academics, and the collegial model had always worked in the past. But the AA executive argue that changes in the ethos as well as several structural changes at UCT, such as decentralised management positions and powers afforded to executive deans and others, have tended to introduce less collegiality, and the engagement between the university and the AA has become more procedural than collegial.

“I would like to assure all members that our intention is not to draw the battle lines,” says chair of the AA, Dr Ulrike Rivett. “We would like to set up a different interaction with the university, striving to engage in a spirit of constructive collaboration as far as possible, but with far greater legal protection and bargaining powers and rights than we enjoy at present.”

The AA Executive has already started the process of meeting the deans, HR representatives and the Chair of Council, Advocate Geoff Budlender.

“These meetings serve as first steps in our new mode of engagement with structures of the university,” says Rivett.

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