Vice-Chancellor’s Town Hall Meeting on 14 May 2015 at Wits Theatre

The VC’s meeting with Professional and Administrative Staff took place on 14 May 2014. Below are questions and answers from the meeting.

Succession Planning

Q: We feel that Heads of Schools do not budget for administrative or professional staff. Even when they know that the person is 65 and is going to retire they wait for the person to  retire and take six months to advertise and another six months to make an appointment. This is not a professional approach and this has been raised for years now and nothing is being done about it. It seems to be a budgetary problem, if it is why is not being addressed?

A: We should make it mandatory that if a Head of School has a budget for training, it should be used. These are basic things to know when people are retired. We will have a discussion with the Heads of Schools. If they do not do that they should be held accountable and should be penalised and reprimanded unless there is a logical reason behind it.

Medical Aid

Q: The issue of medical aid is like suicide withinthe University perspective. We need an affordable medical aid.

A: There are members of staff who find the contribution too expensive and cannot survive under the amount of contribution required. When we moved into the system we approached the medical aid (Discovery) for a cheaper option, which was put on the table, however the staff was not happy with it. Two new options were created and at the moment those two options are being looked at and we can say we are close to making a final decision.

Here is the dilemma: There are three issues here:

1)     By law the staff members need to have medical aid

2)     If you have a cheaper medical aid you need to be careful that you do not lose out on the concessions

3)     If too many people leave the medical aid, the medical aid does not have the critical mass required to survive and then what are the implications for the University and what are our options

You are contractually bound by a series of previous acts and rules to have a medical aid. We are quite close to making some hard decisions because we are close to finalising the survey.

Addition answer by Prof. Tawana Kupe, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Transformation, HR and Advancement

We run a closed scheme and that is one of the critical factors which we need to consider. In mid-March 2015 the Council held a workshop on medical aid issues. At the workshop the Board of Trustees designed a cheaper option. The Board together with management thereafter held a meeting with Nehawu in which this option was proposed and it was concluded that the cheaper option would actually not be cheaper and would not satisfy the concerns of the community (staff).

After the 31st of May, the results of the survey will determine what the next step is. The results of the survey which are not out now could indicate a cheaper option or again not be cheaper for the community. Management has control over the conditions of service, and by law everyone should have a medical aid through a closed scheme.  Management could contemplate whether it is still proper to run a closed scheme and see what options if we have there. This is not a simple step. It is a deliberative process to ensure that we make a right decision under the regulatory authority of the council of the medical aid scheme. Our research has revealed that it is possible, for example, for management to decide that those employees who earn under a certain amount  be allowed to opt out of the closed schemes; however sustainability and viability calculations will need to be made.

Q: When I complained about Discovery’s policies regarding foreign staff, I was told that if I do not accept their policies they will be happy to cancel it. I find that unacceptable, what should I do now?

A: They are not entitled to say that. They have no right to say that.

Transformation

Q: Since your appointment, how far are we with transformation?

A: There has been a significant change with the appointment of senior black executive members, e.g. Tawana Kupe, Pamela Dube and Zeblon Vilakazi. We have also appointed a new Head of the Transformation and Employment Equity Office.

Q: In terms of transformation, can the University also focus on administrative staff and not only academic staff?

A: Council has given me and the executive team the responsibility to make those decisions, however sometimes people do not meet minimum criteria hence they do not get hired and it is not because they are black. The have been cases where the systems were lacking and we intervened. While there is a commitment to the principles of transformation, there is also no commitment to appointing people who are not qualified for the job because that will destroy the institution. People do not get appointed simply because they are equity figures. They need to be qualified for that job. Transformation has to be done accordingly.

Recycling

Q. Is it possible to educate people on recycling? Is it possible to force people to recycle because it is the right thing to do and the intelligent thing to do as a higher learning institution we can set an example for the rest of the country and the world? Is there a task team we can put together to help the people be compliant in ensuring that we have a future in the next 100 years because at the moment we will not have one?

A: At the moment it has been written in one of our contracts to reduce our wastage by a certain percentage and to bring down our energy costs from a financial point of view but also from a sustainability point of view. We have a good recycling effort together with Oricol, our waste management service provider. Oricol currently regroups everything together to make sure that everything goes into the right bin because at times it is not obvious where all the materials go.

We have different bins in which we try to teach people to throw into the different bins. In the past there have also been competitions for students to design rubbish bins. There needs to be better communication to educate people about recycling. A communication campaign could be developed to address the issue of recycling.

 Outsourcing and Insourcing

Q: To deal with the question of what is an essential service, could cleaning be one of those essential services as a strategy for going forward to decide what is a core service?

A: We can do the essential services, however, insourcing costs more money. We have a minimum which we pay and we can’t below that, which is why the system works for us. We pay our contractors who pay their employees far below our minimum. The problem cannot be corrected without understanding the consequences. It is either we get more money from the state or we increase student fees. The fundamental challenge here is how do we avoid insourcing people without increasing fees?

If we insource we will have to increase student fees by 25 percent next year. Is that really sustainable? Let’s understand the consequences. Students want insourcing, but they do not want fees increased.

Staff Retention

Q: There have been efforts to retain staff and particularly black and coloured academic staff. Is Senate going to extend that to professional and administrative staff who keep the University going?

A: The professional and administrative staff are doing far better in that respect, due to a number of historical reasons which is why we are focusing resources on  academics s. However, this does not mean we should not engage in the serious debate about the development of professional staff. With regards to the training budget, there is no serious money to do anything serious. I will engage with Tawana to see if we could centralise the budget utilise it in a strategic manner.

Q: Could you please look into the issue of excluding certain categories of staff from getting information because of language or access to computers? Can there be forums for them to engage in  institutional matters, policies, transformation etc ?

A: That is a legitimate request. We will look into an institutional mechanism to make sure that people have access to information and are able to engage in such matters.

 

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