Campus union set for action

Picketing by Nehawu members during lunchtime today and tomorrow on the Rhodes campus is not expected to affect any University programmes, including the six graduation ceremonies scheduled over the next three days.

The National Health, Education and Allied Workers Union, a Cosatu affiliate, has declared a dispute with Rhodes University as negotiations over pay increases stalled.

Nehawu seeks a 7.5% increase and University management is offering 5%.

Today and tomorrow, Nehawu members plan to picket outside the University’s main administration building.

On Tuesday 25 April, however, the strikers will march from the Great Hall, along Prince Alfred Street, along Somerset Street, and via Lucas Avenue back to the main administration building, where they will hand over a memorandum to University management.

“Currently we have around 600 members on the Rhodes University campus, because people are coming in their numbers to join us,” shop steward Zakate Vena told Grocott’s Mail yesterday. “This includes employees from grade 1 to grade 17.”

Vena believes all those members will picket today and tomorrow in support of the wage demand.

“When you talk about finance, it’s in the interest of the workers. People who aren’t able to support their families will come and join us.

“We want the public to know we are not happy, while people are graduating,” Vena said. He said there was no explicit intention to disrupt Graduation.

The University was producing an excellent graduation result and they must recognise the people who  had helped facilitate that,

“People are coming here from home every day, to help create and maintain an environment conducive for study. Cooks are making healthy meals so the students can concentrate in class. Venues are cleaned. These are the people who make the University work.

“How can we leave them behind? We know we are not academics, and that we are supporting the academic project.But the academic project can’t work without us. The people who are working very hard, it’s us.

“Last year during #FeesMustFall we contributed so hard towards making sure this university doesnot shut down.   

“The University has appointed people who are very good in terms of ensuring financial sustainability. Yet the financial sustainability isn’t improving. “

Vena said the Union demanded better transparency regarding the University’s finances.

Rhodes University yesterday confirmed it had received notification from Nehawu of its intention to embark on a three-day protected industrial action over wages.

The University’s Communications and Advancement Division said in a media release that the planned action followed a deadlock in wage negotiations.

“The union rejected a revised offer of five percent salary adjustment for 2017. The university referred to the offer as a “bitter pill to swallow” taking into account the rate of inflation but also highlighted serious risk to the sustainability of the institution of increasing the current deficit budget to fund salaries.”

The University said institutions of higher learning generally and Rhodes University in particular, had had to deal with a tough economic situation in the past two years owing, in part, to dwindling state subsidy and a combination of other financial pressures.

“For the past 18 months, the Vice Chancellor, Dr Sizwe Mabizela, has been meeting both unions regularly to apprise them of the financial situation of the University,” the statement saiid. “Furthermore, the University leadership has highlighted the crucial financial choices faced by the University. It urged continued internal engagement and creative thinking by all stakeholders and presented a number of austerity measures to mitigate financial risk.

These included ongoing work around the academic size and shape needed for the University to become financially sustainable and a review of support operations with a view to reducing costs.

“The University respects the worker’s right to participate in legal industrial action. We continue to engage in the hope of finding a workable and lasting solution for all parties involved,” said Vice Chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela.

In reply to questions fro Grocott’s Mail, the Communications and Advancement Division said the agreement about today’s and tomorrow’s industrial action was that it would not disrupt this weekend’s graduation ceremonies.

The picketing will take place during lunchtime on Thursday and Friday,” said the Communications Division. "The agreement in place is that it will not disrupt any University programmes.”

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