AT THE end of last week, members of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) staged a mass picket at the University of Johannesburg (UJ). ‘This is because the University of management is treating workers like slaves!’ NUMSA’s statement warned.
‘They refuse to pay security staff for working on Saturdays, and force them to work extra hours for free through a policy called “harvesting”.
‘We condemn this practice with the contempt it deserves!
‘Furthermore, the University of Johannesburg scammed the entire country when they claimed they were insourcing workers. This is because workers who were insourced in 2016, because of the demands made by the #FeesMustFall movement, still receive the same salary that they did when they were employed by labour brokers.
‘Workers who were previously outsourced, on average are earning a basic salary of R5000 per month (approx. U.S. $333), and permanent employees who do the same work, with the same responsibilities, earn a basic of R12,200 (approx. U.S.$820) per month.
‘The gap is a minimum of R7200 (U.S.$484)! The management of UJ is refusing to equalise the salaries and benefits of workers who were previously outsourced through labour brokers.
‘UJ is violating the constitutional court judgement on Labour brokers which NUMSA won in 2018. They are also violating the principle of ‘‘equal pay for work of equal value’’.
‘The Constitutional court judgement is clear that all workers who are insourced, upon becoming permanent, must receive the same benefits and salaries as other permanent staff.
‘It is disgraceful that a university like UJ, which prides itself in having ethical values can ruthlessly abuse the African working class in this way. UJ management is unashamedly and unapologetically behaving like the hated and feared Apartheid government, which oppressed Black workers.
‘Our members were addressed by the Regional Secretary of JC Bez, comrade Oupa Ralake who commended members for being resolute in the face of a stubborn brutal management. He thanked members for being disciplined and being committed to the strike, since it began on the 3rd of October 2019.
‘We want to end slavery. Why is that our mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters are slaves at the University of Johannesburg? How is it possible that they can work so hard and be denied salaries which they deserve?
‘All these employers are the same, it doesn’t matter if they are white or black.
‘In this democracy of ours, we have a lot of black managers. But inside, they are white, and their hearts are like the racist Afrikaner “Boers” we feared under Apartheid.
‘In some cases, they are even worse than them.
‘UJ management claims the demands we are making will have financial implications for the university, and they cannot afford it. However, it is difficult to believe that narrative, because they are spending a lot of money on private companies, outsourcing workers to replace those who are on strike in an attempt to undermine the strike, instead of using that money to equalise salaries and benefits.
‘Our strike is gaining support from workers overseas. We received a message of solidarity from the Professional Staff Congress.
‘They sent us a message of solidarity on behalf of 30,000 members of the union, which includes faculty and staff at the City University of New York, in the U.S. They are in solidarity with us, and they say that they are also fighting the battle to end labour brokering and outsourcing at the institution.
‘In their letter to our members they say: “We admired your victory over insourcing in 2015 and we wish you good speed in this next step in the struggle for labour justice.”
‘We have also received lots of messages of support from some academics at the university, and students. We thank our friends and comrades, both locally and internationally for their support and solidarity.
‘We know that it is only through the unity of the working class, that we can defeat our oppressors.
‘We handed over a memorandum of our demands, it was received by Senior Executive Director, in the Vice- Chancellor’s Office, Dr. Nolitha Vukuza. We have given management until the 25th of October 2019 to respond.
‘In the meantime, our members will continue to strike and picket at the university premises. We will also continue to expose this racist institution for its backward practices.
‘We urge the management of UJ to come to its senses and negotiate with the union in order to find an amicable resolution to the strike.’
- Members of Satawu (South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union) this week picketed the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) against the threat of ‘attacks and hijackings’ – i.e., attacks which threaten train drivers daily in the course of their work.
Meanwhile the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) also staged industrial action last week.
Satawu’s plan was to picket all across Gauteng province on Wednesday to draw attention to their concerns over safety at work. ‘Workers are concerned about issues of safety as a condition of service,’ their statement said.
‘The threat of attacks and hijackings faced by train drivers daily is a matter of public record.
‘Protection services members, for instance, are not provided with firearms even though they are fully trained, and incidents they attend to are dangerous as culprits are often armed.
‘Nor are they provided with protective vests or batons with which to defend themselves.’
Satawu warned too that protection services employees charged with patrolling the yards where train sets were kept at night lamented the lack of proper lighting, while those whose job it is to fix and repair trains had to rely on cellphone torches to complete tasks – because the workshop was so poorly lit.
Customer services personnel feel vulnerable too, as no protection is being provided for them – even though they work with cash.
‘Prasa has stopped holding meetings with employees and unions to apprise them of safety hazards and how to mitigate them,’ explained Satawu. ‘This partly explains why the Rail Safety Regulator continues to renew Prasa’s operating license every six months, instead of granting it for the full 36 months.’
The union added that Prasa’s monopoly in the sector meant that ‘[if the] regulator revoked its operating licence, millions of South Africans reliant on it for their daily commute would be stranded.
‘This explains why the rail agency’s management has adopted a laissez-faire attitude, opting to pay fines levied by the RSR rather than comply with regulations,’ said Satawu.
It added: ‘The same attitude has resulted in Prasa’s abysmal financial state.’
- Earlier this week the University of South Africa (Unisa) announced on Tuesday that its Sunnyside campus in Pretoria was ‘not accessible’ as a result of protest action by members of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu).
Unisa spokesperson Martin Ramotshela said the protest action emanated from issues raised by Nehawu and its members with regard to what they claim were buildings that are not compliant with occupational, health and safety standards – and therefore not conducive for employees to work in.
‘The university is currently in talks with the leadership of Nehawu about this matter, with a view to finding an amicable solution, bringing the protest action to an end, as well as ensuring that the Sunnyside Campus is re-opened for business as speedily as possible,’ Unisa’s statement continued.
‘The discussions will also involve progress with the maintenance plan for all Unisa buildings that the university has already presented to organised labour and other stakeholders.’
Ramotshela said the university advises all stakeholders who want to access the campus to conduct their business, especially staff and students, to visit the nearest Unisa service centres or offices, or alternatively to conduct their business online.