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By Peter Mothiba

NEHAWU members protesting at the University of Pretoria
NEHAWU members protesting at the University of Pretoria

The National Health and Allied Workers Union ( Nehawu) says it will investigate footage that shows University of Pretoria students being compelled to scale over gates to gain access to the campus on Monday.

Media reports suggest that Nehawu members who are on strike at the University over a salary increase dispute, are responsible for locking the gates of the campus.

This in order to disrupt lessons at the University so that the management of the university would meet their demands.

Nehawu members have been on strike since 15 February this year.

This follows a deadlock in salary negotiations between their union and the administration of the University of Pretoria.

“The aim of allegations suggesting that our members blocked access to the university campus are aimed at crushing our strike action,” said Nehawu’s Gauteng Provincial Secretary Mzikayise Tshontshi.

But after being confronted by Tshwane Talks on Tuesday with video footage apparently showing Nehawu’s striking workers toyi-toying in front of locked gates and students scaling over the gates to gain access to the university, Tshontshi changed his tune and promised to investigate the matter.

“Nehawu declared a dispute on 28 November 2023 and the matter was referred to the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) for a resolution,” Tshontshi told Tshwane Talks yesterday.

“Unfortunately, Nehawu and the university management couldn’t find each other and as a result a certificate of non-resolution was issued by the CCMA,” he said.

The bone of contention here, according to Tshontshi is :
1. Intransigent refusal by the management to move from a 4% below inflation increase to a reasonable 7% increase in wages.

2. A 13th cheque or alternatively, workers would settle for a once-off bonus that is above R10 000 ( ten thousand rand) which must be paid to workers during the current financial year.

3. Five days leave encatchment.

4. Long service award for every worker who has been working at the institution for 10 years,15 years and 20 years.

Tshontshi explained that at the moment the university’s management only gives long service awards to those who have been working at the University for 20 years.

“We believe that working conditions are not fair for workers of our union,” said Tshontshi.

He pointed out that senior university officials were awarding themselves high salaries annually and living in luxury, while workers had to endure low salaries.

Tshontshi pointed out that their demand for a salary increase is linked to the high cost of living and not only inflation in this country.

“We reject the austerity budget of the management of the university with the contempt that it deserves,” he said.

Tshontshi says workers are steadfast in their demands and will continue with the strike until the employer comes to its senses.

Meanwhile, the University of Pretoria’s communications officer Rikus Delport told Tshwane Talks that the university of Pretoria is facing disruption at its Hatfield campus due to the ongoing strike action by workers affiliated to Nehawu and another union namely UPWO.

“Illegal obstruction of campus entrances has prompted the university management to make the difficult decision to temporarily transition some classes online,” said Delport.

According to Delport, the university management will apply the “no-work-no-pay” rule in accordance to labour laws.

Workers who are on strike are those classified under level 8 to 14, who are predominantly labourers.

Though Nehawu has expressed
dissatisfaction regarding the university management’s response to the strike action, the management of the university released the following statement to the media yesterday:

“The university reiterates its decision to working with unions to resolve issues and urges striking workers to conduct protests within the confines of the law.”

Nehawu has been recognized as a union by the university’s management since the late 1980’s.

In 1994 Nehawu’s members went on strike over salary increases.

In 2022 the university’s security guards abandoned their posts as they were complaining about the shifts they were working.

In 2023 some workers also went on a strike which was in essence illegal.

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