Wits university vice-chancellor Adam Habib. Picture: AFP
Wits university vice-chancellor Adam Habib. Picture: AFP

University of the Witwatersrand vice-chancellor Adam Habib on Wednesday urged labour unions to exercise restraint in their wage demands, saying the institution had a responsibility to ensure that salary increases did not compromise the university’s financial stability.

"My call is for all role players to start looking at the bigger picture and ... compromise," the vice-chancellor said.

Wits’ offer of a 6.8% increase was the second-highest offer in the higher education sector, and was 1.8% points above inflation, he said.

Wits is grappling with the demands of four unions that are now threatening to strike over disagreements about salary increases, the university’s new performance management system and medical aid benefits.

The unions on Wednesday agreed to enter into talks with management facilitated by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), a development that means a threatened strike from Monday is now on hold.

Staff belonging to the Academic Staff Association of Wits University (Asawu)‚ the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu), the Admin Library and Technical Staff Association (ALTSA)‚ and the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) have rejected management’s proposed salary increase of 6.8%. The unions are asking for an 8% increase, and an additional 1% to cover increased medical scheme premiums.

Nehawu, expected to go on strike on Thursday at Unisa in a separate wage dispute, is also demanding the reinstatement of long-service awards, and the scrapping of low pay grades.

Asawu president Anthony Stacey said academic staff were disappointed with Wits’s decision to amalgamate WitsMed medical scheme with Discovery Health, and its rejection of their proposal that higher-paid staff subsidise the medical scheme contributions of lower-paid colleagues in order to retain Witsmed. He said Witsmed had been in a strong financial position, with reserves of R140m when it merged with Discovery.

kahnt@businesslive.co.za

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