Labour unions at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) have started mobilising for the institution’s total shutdown over a wage dispute.

Workers affiliated to the Academic Staff Association of Wits University (Asawu)‚ the Administrative, Library and Technical Staff Association (Altsa)‚ the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa), and the National Health Education and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) are rejecting a proposed 6.8% salary increase.

Unions are demanding 8% and are planning to close the university next week if Wits management does not meet their demand.

Nehawu Wits acting secretary Tumisho Madihlaba said the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) has granted Nehawu and Altsa strike certificates and their members will conduct lunch-time pickets in preparation for the strike.

"Lunch pickets started on Monday and will continue throughout this week. About 100 members participated in the first picket. The number will increase as the week progresses. We are waiting for other unions to get their strike certificates but the big day is coming‚" Madihlaba said. "If management does not listen to our demand, we will go on strike‚ possibly next week."

Wits is aware of lunch-time pickets and the looming strike and is participating in the processes of the CCMA in a bid to resolve the dispute. Wits’ communications officer Refilwe Mabula said contingency plans are in place should involved unions embark on a strike.

"The university can confirm that members of Nehawu picketed during the lunch hour on Monday. Similar pickets are taking place at Unisa and Durban University of Technology. The union is opposing the university’s proposal of a 6.8% increase for 2018 (and a 7% increase for staff on the lower grades)‚ the best offer that the university can make in the current financial environment‚" Mabula said.

"The university is participating in processes at the CCMA. However‚ if a strike does occur‚ the university will ensure contingency plans are implemented in line with the university’s policies and processes."