Sue Maclennan @SusanMaclennan
Union representatives were this afternoon locked in wage negotiations with Rhodes University management after members of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union yesterday opted to down tools.
Industrial action saw around 200 Nehawu members toyi-toyi around the university campus this morning, emptying bins, before assembling in front of the main administration building around 9am. A negotiating forum comprising representatives from Nehawu, the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) and university management due to begin at 9.30am eventually got under way around 2.30pm.
The university was critical of what it described as illegal and unprocedural protest action, with the human resources division warning Nehawu members they would be subjected to disciplinary action if they failed to report for duty by midday today.
Quoted in a separate statement from the university’s Communications and Advancement Division, Vice Chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela said he was deeply concerned about the impact on operations of a two-week go-slow that preceded today’s actions.
“Rhodes is a public institution”, he said. “We do not answer to any private interests. It would make no sense if the University had money and refused to pay its workers. This is not the case of being unwilling to pay more. There is simply not enough money to cover all the essential operations of our University. ”
The University had noted the adverse impact of the industrial action, which until yesterday took a form of a go-slow, on services at some dining halls, the statement said. “Every effort is being made to alleviate the impact on all affected areas.”
Nehawu has rejected the university’s offer of a 6% wage increase, describing its response to their 25 April memorandum as “utter disrespect and delay tactics”.
In a statement issued this morning, the union reiterated their demands which include a 7.5% salary increase across the board, as well as increases on various allowances.
“Nehawu Rhodes demands that Rhodes University management shows the workers respect in their response to the workers’ demands.”
Nehawu said on 25 April Nehawu had delivered its memorandum to the management of Rhodes University stating the demands of the workers for the transformation of the university and the specific demands for this wage season.
“The response to workers from management was utter disrespect and delay tactics. Their response to the issues of transformation was vague and non-committal, especially in respect of time-frames. There was no response to the wage demands,” the Nehawu statement said.
“For the last two weeks, Nehawu has been engaging on a peaceful and non-disruptive go-slow, allowing management the necessary space and time to apply themselves. Unfortunately, after two weeks, they returned with nothing.”
The Rhodes University branch of NTEU which constitutes a joint bargaining collective with Nehawu’s Rhodes branch, confirmed that they had accepted the university’s revised offer.
National General Secretary Grant Abbott, asked why their response had differed from Nehawu’s said, “We placed a vote on whether to accept the revised offer to our members and they voted to accept.”
NTEU members participated in a lunchtime picket on 25 April, during which their memorandum of demands, along with that of Nehawu, was handed to university management. However, they were not visibly present in today’s action.
“Today’s strike is unprotected in that a 48-hour notice period is required,” Abbott told Grocott’s Mail. “Because there could therefore be consequences, we felt it would not be responsible to advise our members to participate in today’s action.”
He emphasised, however, that NTEU were still equal partners in the negotiating forum which was under way this afternoon.
“There are other options on the table and if a better offer is made and accepted, it will apply to everyone anyway.”
Abbott said he had received no reports of lectures being cancelled today.