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UCT strike: distrust, anger and lack of communication February 19, 2007

Posted by Andreas in Cape Town, News, South Africa, University of Cape Town, Work.
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The strike by UCT workers in payclasses 5 to 12 commenced at 2 pm on Friday and will continue on Monday morning, unless management and the negotiating team miraculously contrived to come up with a solution to the deadlock during the weekend.

On Friday, the majority of strikers marched to the Bremner building, which houses the universities administration, while a smaller contingent was delegated to picket along De Wall Drive attracting the attention of numerous Captonians on their way home from work. The strikers where enthusiastic and very disciplined, singing, brandishing placards and toy-toying. Look at some pics here.

A large proportion of the people who have joined this strike with such conviction have worked at UCT for many years, decades in some cases, some were students here who stayed on after finishing their studies, and many remember the institution as a comparatively good, caring and compassionate employer.

During the last five to ten years, however, UCT has undergone some rather drastic changes. Today, the university is run as a “business” rather than as a public institution and resource of learning and research with at least some grounding in civil society and its relationship to its employees has changed accordingly.

The workforce at UCT has been severely fragmented by an administration that has “outsourced” as many of its “non-core” activities as possible and clearly prefers to deal with its employees in small groups (a tactic of divide and rule that was evident in management’s offers during the recent negotiations).

It’s my sense that there is currently a great deal of disappointment in a UCT leadership that seems oblivious to the widespread unhappiness of its workforce and a vice-chancellor who prefers to communicate via impersonal mass emails rather than by speaking to UCT workers on the steps of the administration building.

There is a deep sense of distrust in a Human Resources department that seems to regard other UCT workers primarily as “resources” and only coincidentally as “human” and that appears to have negotiated salary increases for itself that are much larger than would ever be offered to the remainder of the workforce.

The HR department is widely considered to have under-designing a performance-related remuneration system that is differently understood and differently applied by line-managers across the university’s various departments and faculties, leading many to question its fairness and workability. Having endowed the performance-appraisal system with entirely inefficient feed-back loops, the HR department appeared for a long time to be under the impression that the feeling among UCT employees was that the system was working flawlessly, an exercise in self-deception if ever there was one.

Finally there has been a fairly comprehensive break-down in communication between the broad workforce and the upper management level, which has led a lot of the strikers to feel as though they are being treated unfairly.

Of course this is just my own personal evaluation of the current situation, but I feel that management would do well to consider some of these issues. If they don’t believe me, maybe the vice-chancellor and his deputies should speak to the odd striking UCT worker themselves – an exercises that might just open their eyes.

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