University of Zululand staff down tools, lectures suspended indefinitely

2016-08-31 13:50

Durban – Approximately 600 staff members at the University of Zululand have downed tools, and the academic programme has been suspended indefinitely, after a three-week-long strike over salary increment, insourcing and the conversion of temporary staff to permanent, sources said.

On Tuesday, the university - situated in northern KwaZulu-Natal - gave the students two hours to vacate the main KwaDlangezwa campus, following alleged violent protests.

The university was recently hit by a controversial "degrees for sale" scandal. According to a Sunday Times report, more than 4 000 students allegedly paid for fake degrees over a period of 20 years. 

A circular sent out to all the staff members, and signed by Vice Chancellor Xoliswa Mtose on Tuesday, stated that students were being given between 10:00 and 12:00 to pack their belongings and leave the campus.

The university’s Richards Bay campus had not been affected.

In the circular, which was also posted on the university’s official Facebook page, the university said no student would be allowed to remain on the campus.

The academic programme had been suspended until further notice, but all staff members were required to remain on campus as normal.

A lecturer, who spoke to News24 on condition of anonymity, said a private security company had been brought to the university three weeks ago to try and quell a violent strike.

"When they got here, they found a peaceful strike. Before we went on strike, we told management that we were going to go on strike, but they ignored us."

'It is about pay progression'

He said salaries and the mismanagement of university funds were the central issues of the strike.

Strike organiser Thulani Maphosa said the industrial action had begun on August 15.

"It is about pay progression, the conversion of temporary staff to permanent staff, insourcing, and other issues that are less pertinent issues.”

Maphosa said staff had first presented management with their concerns in January 2015.

"That was 19 months ago and they still have not resolved the matter. During the 2015/16 salary negotiations, management decided to give staff a once-off 7% payment in lieu of the progression tool. They said they would develop the progression tool at a later stage. Most of the agreements had a deadline of October 2015, but management has not honoured them."

He said the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) had tried to meet with management on two occasions, but they had not wanted to meet with the union.

"Nehawu applied for a certificate to strike and it was granted, with a condition it would take place after the second meeting, but the meetings never took place," said Maphosa.

Nehawu deputy secretary Hlakaniphani Jamile updated all the striking staff on Sunday, saying it was regrettable that university management and the union were still deadlocked on primary issues, including salary progression, the conversion of temporary staff and contract employees to permanent, and insourcing.

Dragging feet

On salary progression he said: "What is happening at Unizulu is that management is telling us that they will not have the progression, simply because they [management] do not want to budget for it.

"That is the most heinous thing to say to any decent fellow human being. It shows total disrespect for us as workers at the University… Management simply has to do what it is supposed to do and that is to stop withholding our salaries from us."

The union said outsourcing was one of the cruelest facilities that managers of institutions could use against employees. 

"Once a unit or function has been outsourced, the affected employees lose benefits that they would have enjoyed had they been under university employ. To continue to have such facility available to management is like sitting on a time-bomb, one has no idea when it will explode.”

Jamile said the university management had deliberately dragged its feet on these matters. 

"Salary progression has been on the negotiation table since the year 2013. The contract with Co-operatives stipulates that the date on which they (Co-operatives) had to cease to exist in year 2005…

“This is the beginning of the third week of industrial action and management is deliberately delaying coming up with solutions because they think they will simply deduct money from our salaries," said Jamile. 

Negotiations continue

University spokesperson Gcina Nhleko confirmed that staff had been striking over pay progression, outsourcing and leave encashment ,among other issues.

"The negotiations between Nehawu and management have been in progress for three weeks. The management and Nehawu have been meeting and trying to resolve the issues… however no agreement has been reached therefore both parties have deadlocked."

Nhleko said management would be available to meet with the union and engage if there were changes to the demands they had tabled.

Asked when the academic programme was expected to resume, Nhleko said nothing was confirmed, but it all depended on the outcomes of negotiations this week.

The union met with the university management on Tuesday, however, no agreement could be reached and the strike was set to continue. 


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