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UCT Fracking Panel Discussion May 19, 2011

Posted by Andreas in Environment, Fracking, South Africa, University of Cape Town.
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4 Great Eco-Documentaries at the Labia September 14, 2010

Posted by Andreas in bees, Climate change, Environment, Film screening, Nuclear Power, Sustainable Living, University of Cape Town.
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While You Were Sleeping and the UCT Green Campus Initiative invite you to watch four fantastic documentaries with important environmental themes at the Labia on Orange cinema in Cape Town from Monday 20 September to Thursday 23 September at 6.15pm.

You can’t afford to miss these thought-provoking and inspiring documentary films covering themes from nuclear energy and over-fishing to oil pollution.

Vanishing of the Bees

Monday 20 September 6.15pm

An eye-opening account of the truth behind the world-wide decline in honeybee populations. Known as Colony Collapse Disorder, this phenomenon has brought beekeepers to crisis in an industry responsible for producing apples, broccoli, watermelon, onions, cherries and a hundred other fruits and vegetables. Commercial honeybee operations pollinate crops that make up one out of every three bites of food on our tables. Filming across the US, in Europe, Australia and Asia, this documentary examines the alarming disappearance of honeybees and the greater meaning it holds about the relationship between humanity and nature. As scientists puzzle over the cause, organic beekeepers indicate alternative reasons for this tragic loss. Conflicting options abound and after years of research, a definitive answer has not been found to this harrowing mystery.

The Nuclear Comeback

Tuesday 21 September 6.15pm

In a world living in fear of climate change and global warming, the nuclear industry is proposing itself as a solution. It claims that nuclear power generation produces zero carbon emissions. Is it time we learned to love the split atom? Or is there a risk that we might be jumping out of the carbon frying pan and into the plutonium fire? The Nuclear Comeback poses the question of whether, by seriously considering the renewed development of nuclear power, we may be gambling with the very survival of our planet.

The End of the Line

Wednesday 22 September 6.15pm

Imagine a world without fish! The End of the Line is the world’s first documentary about the devastating effects of overfishing. Filmed across the world – from the Straits of Gibraltar to the coasts of Senegal and Alaska to the Tokyo fish market – featuring top scientists, indigenous fishermen and fisheries enforcement officials, The End of the Line is a wake-up call to the world.

Crude

Thursday 23 September 6.15pm

An inside look at the infamous $27 billion “Amazon Chernobyl” case. Three years in the making, this cinéma-vérité feature from acclaimed filmmaker Joe Berlinger is the epic story of one of the largest and most controversial environmental lawsuits on the planet. Crude is a real-life high stakes legal drama, set against a backdrop of the environmental movement, global politics, celebrity activism, human rights advocacy, the media, multinational corporate power, and rapidly-disappearing indigenous cultures.

Each screening will be followed by a facilitated audience discussion. Tickets are R20 and can be reserved by calling The Labia at (021) 424 5927. Reserving tickets is strongly recommended to avoid disappointment.

This event is presented by the UCT Green Campus Initiative, the Labia and While You Were Sleeping, a Cape Town-based non-profit film collective committed to bringing progressive, non-mainstream documentaries with important social and environmental messages to South African audiences.

Contacts:

The Labia:

021 424 5927

UCT Green Campus Initiative:

http://www.uct.ac.za/about/greencampus

While You Were Sleeping:

Andreas Späth

084 772 1056

Andreas_Spath@yahoo.com

UCT strikers victorious! February 20, 2007

Posted by Andreas in News, South Africa, University of Cape Town, Work.
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After striking from 2pm last Friday, members of the UCT Employees’ Union this morning accepted a substantially improved offer from the university’s management and the strike has been suspended.

The offer, which was accepted nearly unanimously, is arguably better than the demands that the union had put on the table. We were striking for an across the board increase of 5.5% plus a 1.5% performance related raise (i.e. a maximum pay increase of 7% for top, walk-on-water performers).

What we got is a performance related raise that incorporates a guaranteed minimum 5.5% increase which can be higher than 7%, depending on where the worker is placed on her or his payscale according to her or his performance appraisal.

The guaranteed 5.5% raise essentially translates into an across the board increase (it only excludes individuals with a documented below-par performance record) and the deal is not capped by the 1.5% performance related top-up we demanded.

This outcome is a definite victory for the union. Management was clearly shaken by our militancy and resolve. The fact that they essentially conceded to our demands is brilliant. Union members have demonstrated to themselves and the rest of the university community that as a united force they are capable of winning these sorts of battles with the management – and it took just over a day!

There were also exciting signs of solidarity between the EU and NEHAWU, between workers from different bargaining units as well as from students and academics.

Members of the union exec emphasised that a commitment was made to start the next round of salary negotiations much earlier this year to avoid some of the problems that plagued the process this time around.

In our meeting this morning, several members made it clear that we should see this victory as a stepping stone to further improvements and gains and I think that is a particularly positive development. If we can take the success of this strike as what some people would call a “non-reformist reform”, which we can build on in future rather than suffering an erosion of our new gains, then we have made a quantum leap in the struggle for better working conditions at UCT.

There are clearly some outstanding problems, particularly those around the practical implementation of the performance appraisal system, but these issues are acknowledged and will surely be addressed and at the very least watched with eagle-eyes by union members.

As for management and particularly the Human Resources department, they will have to work hard to rebuild a number of bridges that have been burnt in an effort to re-establish some sort of trust.

When I was leaving the meeting at which the new proposal was accepted this morning, I bumped into one of my co-workers who was wearing a broad and satisfied smile. Last year this long-time UCT employee and consistently good performer got an increase of less than half a percent (I’m not kidding you, even his line manager was astonished!). This year he will get 5.5% guaranteed and most probably considerably more. That thought alone makes this a particularly sweet victory!

UCT strike rolls along February 19, 2007

Posted by Andreas in Cape Town, News, South Africa, University of Cape Town, Work.
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The strike by workers in payclasses 5 to 12 at the University of Cape Town continued into its second day today. This morning started with successful picketing along Rosebank Main Road and Woolsack Drive followed by a convergence on Bremner building (home to the university’s administration).

From there workers marched to Upper Campus singing and toy-toying, surely an apt initiation to the throngs of students coming to UCT for their first day of lectures for the year. Most of the students looked somewhat perplexed, but the atmosphere on the plaza and on University Avenue was generally supportive.

The only exception to this that I noticed was a student holding a hastily hand-written piece of paper that read “Go Home Commies”. His childish conflation of our democratic and constitutionally-guaranteed right to strike with a political philosophy was rather comical. A dignified elder striker took him to task and let him know (with a few carefully chosen kind words) that he’d better be off to his lectures since his education was clearly lacking and rather incomplete.

At a meeting in the acoustically-challenged echo chamber that is Jameson Hall, the strikers overwhelmingly resolved to continue the strike for the rest of the day and into Tuesday. Management and the union negotiating team met at Bremner at 2pm. By tomorrow morning we should have an indication if UCT is finally prepared make a constructive offer.

Today was a good day for the strikers – it was sunny and hot and this whitey got his face and balding forehead thoroughly burnt. If there’s anything I’ve learned from this strike, it is to come prepared and appropriately accessorised. Oh, and that a united workforce is a powerful thing, of course!

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.

Strike! February 15, 2007

Posted by Andreas in Cape Town, News, South Africa, University of Cape Town, Work.
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Wow was I wrong when I suggested the other day that there might not be “enough anger and passion” among UCT workers (payclasses 5 to 12) to sufficiently support the Employees’ Union’s demands in the current dispute with management.

At a meeting on Wednesday, which was called by the union specifically to gauge support, about 400 or so UCT workers rejected mamagements very final non-offer and came out overwhelmingly in favour of strike action.

There were also messages of support from the Student Representative Council, NEHAWU (who may come out in a sympathy strike) and the UCT Workers’ Forum (representing contracted workers).

After the legally required 48-hour notice period, we will be on strike from 2pm this Friday! All in all, this should have management shaking in their boots – let’s see how far they’re willing to take this!

Spirits are high. Watch this space.

Looming strike at UCT? February 13, 2007

Posted by Andreas in Cape Town, News, South Africa, University of Cape Town, Work.
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If you’ve been following my previous posts about the current round of salary negotiations at the University of Cape Town, you won’t be entirely surprised that the negotiation process has finally reached a stale-mate.

The CCMA (Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration) wasn’t able to resolve the deadlock and at two meetings last week, the members of the UCT Employees’ Union rejected management’s last offer (which was essentially the same as the one before it) and came out in favour of strike action if required.

We’re not on strike yet, but I guess we could be very soon. How interesting would that be! I’m still not entirely convinced that there is enough anger and passion behind this from enough people, but I’m ready to be surprised!

The union has called for a lunch-time meeting of its members this Wednesday as a show of strength and resolve. This is a pretty sensitive time in the university calendar since we have just started orientation week and the registration of new and returning students.

Watch this space and I’ll keep you up to date on how things pan out.

Here are the union’s current demands:

1. Salary Increase – 7% increase of which 5.5.% should be across the board and the remainder of 1.5% granted in terms of the performance reward system.

2. Staff Tuition rate – referred to sub group for recommendations

3. Tax on Bonus – agreed with set of rules for choice and implementation to be agreed by 31 May 2007. Members to be allowed 3 years in which to take a final decision whether to remain on system or not.

4. Parking – increases to be contained to a % not greater than the average salary % increase granted in any one year.

5. Performance development system. The appointment of a sub-group, with 3 reps from either side, to resolve issues with the current system.

UCT salary negotiations continue December 20, 2006

Posted by Andreas in Cape Town, South Africa, University of Cape Town, Work.
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Just a quick update on the UCT salary negotiations (read my previous post on the topic here). The UCT Employees Union had a meeting yesterday during which management’s final offer was rejected.

The offer involved an across the board increase of 5,5% for pay-classes 5 to 7 and a performance related increase of 5.5% for pay-classes 8 to 12. An amateurish and poorly disguised attempt to fragment the UCT workforce even more than it already is, this brilliant stratagem was just way too transparent not to be recognised as a poor deal and a threat to the unity of the organisation.

So matters will now be handed over to the CCMA for conciliation and if they can’t resolve the dispute, our next union meeting may well feature a strike ballot!

Apparently management is under the impression that the union is weak, because meetings have been poorly attended, but I think they are deluding themselves. The low turn-outs have more to do with the time of year and the fact that many union members are already on leave (presumably that was all part of managements negotiation strategy and delaying tactics in the first place, which actually makes this a case of self-delusion on their part).

I reckon spirits among union members are high and the general sentiment is that the union will not back down from its demands very easily. We shall see what the new year brings – interesting times for sure!

The Silly Season – UCT Salary Negotiations December 1, 2006

Posted by Andreas in Cape Town, South Africa, University of Cape Town, Work.
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With less than a month to go before the Christmas break, annual salary negotiations at the University of Cape Town, where I work, have begun in earnest.

Workforce unity in this proudly liberal, no, better make that neoliberal, institution has been systematically dismantled over the past few years: most of the cleaning and gardening staff have been ruthlessly outsourced to amongst others, Fidelity Supercare (an outfit that consistently stumbles over its own feet in the race to the bottom), the lower non-academic payclasses are represented by NEHAWU, the UCT Employees Union negotiates for all remaining non-academic (aka PASS) staff, while the academics are organised in the UCT Academics’ Association.

You get the picture: Divide and Conquer has been the watchword in hallways of Bremner (UCT’s admin building) for some time.

In the era of Grand Apartheid* local cynics used to refer to this place as “Moscow on the hill” – the irony! These days Washington by the Liesbeek would be equally appropriate.

Moscow on the hill or Washington by the Liesbeek?

NEHAWU and the Academics’ Association have already settled for a 5.5% increase (across the board and performance-related, respectively).

Yesterday, the UCT Employees Union (including yours truly, of course) rejected a similar offer from management!

When it wants to, the EU can be a feisty little union. Sure, it’s got nothing on the Wobblies, few if any of its members have ever pondered the virtues of anarcho-syndicalism and replacing capitalism with something better is certainly not on the agenda. But it’s independent, bolshy and its volunteer exec can only function through strong mandates from the membership.

It warms my heart to hear fellow PASS staff members – librarians, administrative assistants, technical and scientific officers – voice their dissatisfaction with management’s miserly offer, telling them to stick it!

We came away from the meeting with a clear consensus that:

  • we do not want to pay the unreasonable, discriminatory and punitive increases in staff parking fees before we see any improvements in the system
  • the performance appraisal system is not functioning satisfactorily at all
  • we want an increase comprised of an across the board portion that will provide financial stability for all, as well as an additional performance-related portion for high achievers.

Now all we need is to support the negotiating team in our numbers, document specific grievances and put facts on the ground. Aluta Continua and all that!

(* it just occurred to me that that term rolls of the tongue a bit like Grand Theft Auto and I guess it’s sort of the non-automotive equivalent on an infinitely larger scale!) .