“Treating workers like human beings is not possible in a university run like a capitalist business”

Students, lecturers and workers at Wits University marched through the Johannesburg CBD to the university’s Jorissen Street entrance on Tuesday to protest against the outsourcing of workers at the university and calling for “decolonised, public, African universities”. AAISHA DADI PATEL was there.

At Senate House, where the vice-chancellor Adam Habib’s office is located, outsourced university support staff, including cleaners and security personnel, spoke about their frustrations at being denied status as members of the university community and handed over a charter, including a list of demands, to deputy vice-chancellor Andrew Crouch.

“I work very hard, and I earn less than peanuts! I can’t afford to live properly or pay for anything,” said Sylvia (50), a cleaner contracted to the university, who asked not to use her full name.

According to the workers’ charter, since outsourcing has been put into place, cleaners’ wages have dropped from R2,227 per month to about R1,200 per month. “Treating workers like human beings is not possible in a university run like a capitalist business,” it says.

workers protest 6

The workers complained of having no medical aid, travel allowances, housing, maternity benefits or pensions. They are not allowed to utilise the spaces that they service – including toilets – in certain spaces in the university.

The march was organised by the October 6 Movement, which is made up of students, lecturers and workers. Its primary aims are to bring about an end to outsourcing and to ensure that workers are treated with dignity.

The organisation says that private companies contracted by the university to broker and oversee labour on campus are making “substantial profits” by acting as middle-men and driving down workers’ salaries.

mashudu rathogwo - workers protest

Protestor Mashudu Rathogwo (18), a BA student at the university, said she was shocked to hear how little the people who clean and secure the university earn. “How can they only get R1,200 a month? They need to be treated with some dignity,” she said.

Politics student Andrew Bell (20), who also attended the protest, said he was concerned by the fact that the workers have no representation.

“Workers have no benefits for their kids to come here. What should they be working so hard for?” he asked. “The fact that they don’t even have a trade union, and need students to help them have their rights protected says a lot. We need to do whatever we can to help them.”

workers protest 1

Wits SRC and October 6 representative Fasiha Hassan said that some workers from other Wits campuses had been intimidated by management and warned to not attend the protest.

She added that the protest was only the first measure to address the workers’ issues.

“Meetings will continue to be held every Wednesday by October 6, and we encourage anyone who is interested to get involved,” she said, adding “We will do what we have to to make sure that we highlight the exploitative practices that come with outsourcing.”


Students, lecturers and workers alike are protesting at Wits today at the Oct6 march against the outsourcing of workers

Posted by The Daily Vox on Tuesday, 6 October 2015

– All images by Aaisha Dadi Patel