South African universities strike looms


STRIKE action is looming for the Cape Peninsula University of Technology after talks with workers over salary and service conditions deadlocked last weekend.

The declaration of deadlock was formally conveyed to CPUT Vice-Chancellor Dr Prins Nevhutalu on Friday in a notice from the joint unions task team. The declaration was signed by Cape Peninsula Educators Union chairman Ben Turner; Sello Nkwana, deputy chairman of the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU; and National Tertiary Educators Union chairman Hennie Pretorius.

The statement informed the vice-chancellor that the task team had received a mandate and members would be prepared for the ‘inevitable pursuit of protected industrial action against CPUT in terms of the recognition agreement and the Labour Relations Act’.

It gave the institution five working days to discuss methods of resolving the issues, a prerequisite before pursuing industrial action. Nkwana said while other tertiary institutions had made commitments on the in-sourcing of services, CPUT had not communicated its position, which had angered workers.

CPUT spokesman Norman Jacobs confirmed the institution had received the deadlock notice. He said CPUT was offering the workers a seven per cent increase, which had been mandated by the university council, an increase on its initial offer of six per cent which he said, ‘is all we can afford, as it would be grossly irresponsible to offer more’.

He said the institution was already in deficit after it had been ‘hard hit by the #FeesMustFall campaign’. Jacobs said: ‘We are hoping to find each other in further negotiations, and hoping to avert industrial action.’

Meanwhile, the #OutsourcingMustFall movement threatened on Sunday that workers at Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) would resume strike action if victimisation and harassment of workers was not halted.

‘Tomorrow (Monday 22nd) is the last day for the TUT management to get their house in order and honour the agreement signed with #OutsourcingMustFall‚’ the movement told a news conference on Sunday.

‘If the victimisation and harassment of workers is not ended on Monday 22nd‚ #OutsourcingMustFall will have no choice but to resume strike action across cleaning‚ security‚ catering and landscaping demanding the implementation of the no victimisation clauses in the agreement‚’ it added.

It said that in terms of the agreement workers had returned to work last Monday on the understanding that outsourcing would be phased out‚ a minimum wage of R5‚000 would be implemented and that there would be no victimisation of workers who participated in a four-week-long strike.

‘However‚ contractors are victimising workers and TUT management seems unable‚ or unwilling‚ to intervene and enforce the new agreement‚’ #OutsourcingMustFall asserted.

Meanwhile‚ it said that the strike by workers at Tshwane South College (TSC) and Tshwane North College (TNC) was continuing and that Monday and yesterday (Tuesday 23rd) would see an escalation of protests at the Department of Higher Education & Training in Pretoria which is responsible for policy at these two colleges.

‘If the Department of HET refuses to sit down at the table and negotiate an end to the strike at TSC and TNC this week‚ #OutsourcingMustFall will work to mobilise the entire student population of Tshwane to shut down every campus‚’ #OutsorcingMustFall warned.

‘Already‚ significant links and solidarity have been built between #OutsourcingMustFall and #FeesMustFall. Last week‚ #OutsourcingMustFall secured the bail money and organised the legal representation of arrested University of Pretoria students in solidarity. The two campaigns stand in solidarity‚’ the campaign added.

Outsourced workers at the University of Pretoria‚ Unisa‚ Medunsa‚ TUT‚ Tshwane South College‚ Tshwane North College and Tshwane Municipality began strike action on January 11‚ demanding an end to outsourcing‚ a R10‚000 per month minimum wage‚ and a moratorium on retrenchments and reinstatement of all recently retrenched workers.

The University of Pretoria‚ Unisa and Medunsa management have subsequently accepted workers’ demands and negotiated an end to the strikes at their institutions.

• The Communication Workers Union (CWU) says it’s taking eNews Channel Africa (eNCA) to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration for firing an employee, with claims that his dismissal was over attempts to start a union.

Some former eNCA employees and trade unionists have expressed their anger on social media. But eTV group head of corporate affairs Vasili Vass has refuted the claims.

Vass said: ‘An Enca employee has been dismissed for making false and defamatory claims against the company.’

CWU secretary general Aubrey Tshabalala disagreed, saying: ‘Comrade Modise has been seen as one of the people who have been pro unionist organising at eTV. At some stage he was called into a meeting and asked why he’s joining a union and asked whether he organised a meeting for a union or not.’

l Hundreds of COSATU members protested outside the high court in Pretoria on Monday morning, where a case challenging critical provisions of the labour laws was heard. The Free Market Foundation (FMF) wants the court to amend Section 32 of the Labour Relations Act, which gives the minister of labour the power to extend collective bargaining agreements to non-parties.

The FMF has argued that employers’ inability to set workers’ wages as they see fit has hampered job creation in the country. It wants only companies which are members of collective bargaining councils in the country to be subjected to agreements reached with unions in those forums.

COSATU in Gauteng has described the move by the foundation as an attempt to create a two-tier labour system that seeks to exploit workers. COSATU’s provincial secretary, Dumisani Dakile, said the union federation’s fight against the court challenge, which was first launched three years ago, was to protect current and future workers from exploitation by bosses.

Dakile said: ‘They have not submitted any evidence that extending bargaining council agreements will lead to job losses. They (FMF) are trying to create a two-tier labour system by saying that every single employer must be able to decide, as an individual, which wages they want to pay.’

COSATU, the National Union of Metalworkers and 23 collective bargaining councils have joined the labour minister as respondents in the matter. The FMF stated in its heads of argument to the court that its fundamental objection to the provisions was that ‘the principle of majoritarianism can never sensibly be invoked to justify a system in which private actors determine the fate of those who have not voluntarily subscribed to the process’.

It further contends that such an allowance is unconstitutional as it impedes the minister’s ‘general discretion to act in the public interest’. In court papers filed in response to the foundation’s assertions, Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant dismissed the FMF’s understanding and interpretation of the disputed sections of the law.

She said: ‘The FMF seeks to characterise the minister’s Section 32 (2) power to extend collective agreements as a mere tick-box exercise that does not give the minister any meaningful discretion or control over the extension process.

‘This is incorrect. In its attack on the process entailed in the act, the FMF has accused the minister of refusing to think.’ The foundation said it would pursue the matter all the way to the Constitutional Court if need be.