Dear colleagues and students
You will be aware that we may be facing a potential strike and protest action tomorrow or in the coming days. The executive sent out a campus announcement earlier this morning relating to these issues.
It is important to note that we have no certainty about what might occur. While the South African Liberated Public Sector Workers Union (Salipswu) has alerted management of the intention to strike, it has offered no timing, no details of the format of the strike or demands. Some students have aligned with the Salipswu cause and have called for a shut-down, but it is unclear whether they intend to support the strike as a protest action or whether they will attempt a shut-down.
I recognise that the talk of a shut-down in particular is making many people anxious, and I wish to update you about where we stand.
On the issue of a shut-down
A critical issue to note is that while protest and peaceful strike action are legitimate, we distinguish that from a shut-down. Protestors and strikers do not have the right to prevent the university from continuing its business, nor to prevent students and staff who wish to study and work from doing so.
The university cannot afford to lose any academic time if we are to complete the curriculum in time for exams at the end of the year. Unlike in previous years, the exams are already scheduled until the last days of November and they cannot be postponed except by rolling them over to next year. This will have disastrous consequences for staff, students, incoming first-years, the university’s financial stability and for society. A total of 6 000 students will not be able to graduate at the end of the year. Thousands of school leavers will not be able to start their studies.
There will also be serious financial consequences. If students cannot complete their studies in 2017 and continue in 2018, they will not pay fees for the education they should have completed in 2017. This means that the university could lose R300 million to R500 million in fee income which would not be recoverable. This will have knock-on effects for students on financial aid, staff salaries, the provision of accommodation, and the quality of education.
We believe that the overwhelming number of students are strongly opposed to the suspension or shut down of academic activities. We will do everything possible to ensure that academic activities continue and we urge all students and staff to demonstrate their determination to continue the academic programme and not to participate in shut-down activities.
We will take action against those who try to interfere with the academic project. If there is evidence of an attempt to shut the university down, we will seek an interdict to prevent such activities. Students who disrupt academic activities will be suspended and subjected to disciplinary action. These measures are aimed at minimising the need for private security or the South African Police Service. The academic and financial-aid appeals process earlier in the year clearly demonstrated that it is financially vulnerable students who suffer the most if the university is shut down. We cannot afford to risk the future of any of our students.
I wish to reiterate that the executive and the senior leadership group have every intention to ensure that UCT remains open and completes the year in time. We have a preparedness plan which will unfold if we should face attempts of closure.
On the matter of the union issues
We fully recognise the right of unions to protest and strike and we reaffirm that we will continue our ongoing engagement with the union in order to find solutions.
It is worth explaining briefly the complexity of what is being negotiated and why it cannot simply be resolved in a meeting. One key issue is the shift patterns and Sunday work. To reorganise the shifts, both so that they are more acceptable from a comfort point of view and so that we come within what we can afford, requires consultation with all unions that have members within the particular workplaces (setting up a joint negotiation that involves more than 40 people), consultation with line managers and even students and Residence Councils since there could be an impact on meal times. The process is iterative as feedback is received from different groups affected.
Since the strike notice was presented to management, we have again engaged with the union to try to prevent the strike and we have offered a 14-day intensive engagement in order to tackle the outstanding issues. We sincerely hope that the union reconsiders the strike action and meets us in the engagement so that we can resolve issues together.
In conclusion, I confirm our complete commitment to deal with issues that students, staff or the unions may raise. We will continue to work to resolve the matters.
For now, all university services are continuing and we will update you if this should change.
Dr Max Price
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