Strike arson at KZN school

2010-05-21 00:00

POLICE are investigating incidents of arson and malicious damage to property at Michaelhouse, allegedly committed by striking workers this week.

The incidents happened before the Durban Labour Court interdicted striking members of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) from acts of violence on Wednesday. They are demanding a 13% wage increase against the nine percent offered.

It is alleged that workers’ behaviour turned violent on the school premises at about 7 pm on Monday. About four fire extinguishers were damaged before five hectares of the school’s game reserve were set on fire.

The school’s playing fields are set to be the training venue for the Paraguay World Cup team next month.

“With the help of (farming) neighbours we managed to put out the fire, which took us about two hours,” Michaelhouse rector Guy Pearson said. He said the cost of damages was “insignificant”.

Ninety-seven of the school’s 120 workers are on strike. Pearson said strikers prevented their non-striking colleagues from going to work on Tuesday and Wednesday by barricading a road from the Zenzane staff village.

On Wednesday, Nehawu regional secretary Khaye Nkwanyana told The Witness that the Labour Court had ruled against the institution’s urgent application to stop the strike.

However, Pearson gave the paper a copy of the court interdict showing that the school had applied to interdict strikers from acts of violence, and not to stop the strike.

In terms of the court order, the strikers may not threaten, intimidate, harass or assault their non-striking colleagues. It also ordered them to keep 50 metres away from the institution’s temporary contracted employees.

“The individual respondents [strikers] are interdicted and restrained from being on the school premises other than in the area designated and agreed to in the picketing rules, unless specifically requested to enter the premises for the purpose of attending a meeting,” the court order reads.

Pearson also denied that pupils felt intimidated, as Nkwanyana claimed.

He added that the strike action has not affected the arrangements for the Paraguay World Cup team to train at the school.

“I want to state clearly that the boys are not scared as a result of the strike. Fifa delegates were here this morning [yesterday] to inspect the facility and they were happy. As a result, it’s all systems go [with Paraguay training],” he said.

Police spokesperson Warrant Officer Joey Jeevan confirmed that police are investigating a sabotage incident, noting that a case of arson and malicious damage to property has been opened and that police were investigating.

The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration met at 3 pm to address the dispute. The outcome was not known late yesterday.

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