Botswanan staff strike over lack of say in salaries

November 26, 1999

Academic staff at the University of Botswana struck for a day this month with support staff and students joining the action in solidarity. Since the university was formed in 1982, there have been many student strikes but this was the first by staff.

It was sparked by a salary structure imposed by council from November, which staff felt had been implemented without sufficient consultation. Though it raised salaries, it introduced a complex structure with dozens of new bars across the lecturer, senior lecturer, associate professor and professor salary bands.

A parallel review of guidelines for appointment and promotion of academics had actually proposed the abolition of bars - a move that was warmly received by academic staff.

Academic staff presented a petition with 300 signatures calling for implementation to await

further discussion of the pay structure, then struck in the absence of a satisfactory response. An emergency council meeting and weekend negotiations resulted in agreement to defer the plan and for staff to resume work.

The university has undergone rapid change this year. Proposals for a new management structure were led, with the council's full support, by the new vice-chancellor, Sharon Siverts. The university now has new statutes, a reduced senate with only a handful of the professoriate on it, and dozens of new administrative posts.

The old positions of registrar and bursar have been eliminated and 17 director positions created: five embody new functions, the rest are a reorganisation of existing activities. Directors will serve on three-year renewable contracts.

The academic staff saw the balance in the university shift from teaching and research towards administration and the new directors, many recruited from outside the university.

Staff want to transform their association into a union, even though their strike was premature as they had not exhausted all channels for expressing grievances and they cannot take key decisions without consultation.

The university has grown rapidly from a small undergraduate college with four faculties and fewer than 2,000 students to nearly 10,000 students and seven faculties.

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