Violence at University of Pretoria following week of strike action

2017-05-26 17:06
Property at the University of Pretoria's Onderstepoort's campus has been set alight. (Supplied)

Property at the University of Pretoria's Onderstepoort's campus has been set alight. (Supplied)

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Pretoria - Violence broke out at the University of Pretoria's Onderstepoort campus on Friday morning, following a week of strike action by members of the National Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu).

Nehawu embarked on a strike last Friday, demanding a 13th cheque, an 8% salary increase, and better medical aid.

Ongoing negotiations with the university have deadlocked more than once since the strike started.

On Friday, university spokesperson Candice Jooste said striking Nehawu members had been involved in a violent incident and malicious damage to property at the university’s Onderstepoort campus in the morning.

Criminal charges

"The university condemns this display of violence, considering our willingness to continue negotiations in good faith," said Jooste.

"Nehawu members who have been involved in damaging property and violence will be criminally charged."

Ntsako Nombelani, Nehawu's national organiser for higher education, said union members had embarked on industrial action on Friday, and that the leadership had addressed members at the engineering gate on the university's main campus.

They had agreed to suspend the strike.

But they had then heard that violence had erupted.

"[A] head of security called the chairperson and informed the union that members went on a rampage at Onderstepoort campus," Nombelani said.

"To our best knowledge, all union members dispersed at 10:00 to go and do shopping, as they got paid yesterday."

Nombelani said the union distanced itself from any acts of hooliganism, and allegations levelled against its members.

On Thursday, Nehawu had vowed to intensify its strike action after a proposal allegedly offered by the university was later withdrawn.

According to Nombelani, the university proposed an offer of a 7.5% salary increase and a once-off sum of R3 000.

As part of the offer, the union would also be able to participate in the appointment of a medical aid broker.

Nombelani said the reason the offer was withdrawn was that they would not continue negotiating the possibility of a 13th cheque if the union did not take the offer.

"They are forcing the offer on us," said Nombelani.

Jooste made no mention of the offer and said negotiations were still ongoing and that no final agreement had been reached yet.

Deadlock

Negotiations, which had reached a deadlock on Tuesday, were reopened on Wednesday when Nehawu's leadership met with university Vice Chancellor Cheryl de la Rey.

Nombelani said the university was now looking at the numbers - the affordability of a 7.5% salary increase and the affordability of a 13th cheque.

He said this was not considered before the meeting.

Nombelani said the university agreed to give the union full participatory rights in relation to the appointment of a medical aid broker, as well as allowing Nehawu to benchmark and compare available medical schemes, which would benefit their members.

On Wednesday, when negotiations were deadlocked, Jooste said talks had reached an impasse despite the university’s willingness to negotiate in good faith.

Clash

The strike started last week and there was a brief clash between a group of Nehawu members and police last Friday afternoon, after members split into two groups.

While the one group demonstrated peacefully, others tried to gain entry onto the university's campus and were met by police, who retaliated with teargas and stun grenades.

Some Nehawu members, however, managed to get through the police cordon, while others retreated and threw rocks and bricks at the police.

Three Nehawu members were arrested.

Nehawu members threatened to close down the university on its open day last Saturday.

This was prevented by a court interdict obtained by the university.

Read more on:    up  |  nehawu  |  pretoria  |  labour action

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