UKZN set to cut 200 jobs

2014-01-30 00:00

UNIONS at the University of KwaZulu-Natal are planning to protest against the university and its proposed mass retrenchments.

According to several well-placed sources, the restructuring of several academic schools will see a host of subject modules shut down while over 200 support staff posts have been earmarked for retrenchment — with 96 jobs expected to be made redundant starting February and to be facilitated by the CCMA.

The university has said the retrenchments are the result of the merger of several tertiary institutions to create UKZN over a decade ago.

In a show of strength, the university’s four largest unions — Nehawu, the National Tertiary Education Union, the UKSU and Comsa — made an appeal to all their members to participate in “peaceful placard demonstrations at lunchtime on all campuses with no salary consequences”.

According to e-mails circulated by the four unions, the staff were told they should be “aware of the myriad issues facing UKZN staff”.

The unions have claimed that management has attempted to “omit unions in discussions and appears to show little respect for staff rights”.

“Many members have reported low morale in the workplace because of the ‘unilateral’ decisions taken and implemented by management,” said the e-mail.

The unions are also complaining about the increased workload, the non payment of performance management awards, retrenchments and the continual restructuring since June 2011 and top-heavy and costly management structures.

They also cited the reduction of support staff and accused the university of bullying staff to sign the new Conditions of Service updated in 2012 by offering them lower increases if they failed to migrate.

The unions have also voiced their concern over the university’s management using an informal meeting to tell staff they “will be retrenched”.

National Tertiary Education Union UKZN branch chairperson Nirmala Gopal said the unions have made a joint request to all their members to embark on a lunchtime picket.

“In order for the picket to take place, more than 51% of our joint membership must approve the protest action. All four unions are lobbying their members. Once we have the required support, we must decide whether to pursue the process,” said Gopal.

Yesterday an e-mail titled “Registrar’s Communiqué: Regulation of Gatherings Act (NO 205 OF 1993)” was sent to all staff with an attachment of the university’s gathering policy, which clearly states action will be taken against any staff member or employee who participates in an illegal protest.

The newly appointed executive director of corporate relations Lesiba Sheshoka confirmed there were restructuring plans with “the intention to look at where UKZN can save more money”.

He said, however, they are planning to increase the number of academics “because that is the core business of the institution”.

“We may close vacant posts,” said Sheshoka.

In September 2013, The Witness reported on a confidential document that revealed that the university would close over 700 modules, with the College of Humanities likely to bear the brunt of the closures. According to the document circulated to the institution’s senate and senior managerial staff, the document, titled “Developing UKZN Module Minimum Enrolment Norms”, forms part of a wider internal research project where each module was assessed on its enrolment performance between 2009 and 2013. Although there was no mention of job losses, contract staff were made aware that if the posts did close their contracts would likely be terminated.

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