Workers strike for insourcing by UCT

UAWU says that UCT did not complete the insourcing process it ended in 2016. Photo by Mzi Velapi

A group of about 50 workers, working at UCT but employed by ‘service providers’, took part in a strike to be insourced by the university.

A strike by members of University and Allied Workers’ Union (UAWU) at the University of Cape Town (UCT) entered its second day on Tuesday as workers demand to be insourced by the university. The companies that the workers work for are Bytes Document Centre, Protea Boekwinkel, Food and Connect, Protea Hotel Breakwater Lodge, Protea Hotel Mowbray, various food vendors and the Students’ Health and Welfare Centres Organisation (SHAWCO).

According to the union’s general secretary, Mzomhle Bixa, the university owns the business properties and the services that they provide are for the benefit of the university and it is on this basis that they want the university to employ the workers directly. “We want the university to absorb these workers and at the moment they have compliance protocol with the companies but they have failed to enforce it. Also, the compliance protocols cannot stand in Labour Court. The University is channeling some of the public funds that it gets from the government towards these companies and our people have to benefit from this,” said Bixa.

However, UCT says the employers of the workers are outside of the university and that insourcing the workers directly linked to the university was finished in 2016. “UCT is not able to address the demand relating to insourcing of staff employed by these business entities. Insourcing of staff for services directly linked to UCT was done and finalised in 2016,” reads the statement.

50-year-old Sienna Boesak from Mitchell’s Plain started working for Protea Hotel Breakwater Lodge, which accommodates students at UCT’s Graduate School of Business (GSB), since 1993. “I have been working as a housekeeper for 26 years now and I only have provident fund. Of all these years, I have not seen any significant changes in our working conditions. When I started in 1993, I was earning R1,000 a month and right now I take home R8,500,” she said.

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The Northern Cape native is now a supervisor. “The R8,500 that I earn at the moment is mainly as a result of annual increases that I have accumulated over the years. We have built Protea Hotel Breakwater Lodge to what it is today. Part of the reason that I have joined the strike is because I want to make sure that those who come after us will find the place better than what it is,” said Boesak.

Malwande Qotsini, who works as a waiter at the same hotel, said that it is more than just better pay for him; he wants to be insourced so that he can further his studies. “I was raised by a single parent who was not able to send me to university, so if we can get insourced I would be able to fulfil my dream of furthering my education,” he said. Qotsini said he earns R5,500 a month and has three children that he looks after.

It is an aspiration shared by most of the workers who spoke to Elitsha. “If we get insourced, I would be able to further my studies and my children would have access to that as well,” said Thulisa Matimba, who works as a housekeeper at Protea Hotel Breakwater Lodge.

Bixa said that they will continue with the strike until UCT comes with a proposal that is worth looking at.

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