In The News South Africa

Students threaten unions with EFF leadership visit if Durban university wage dispute continues

DURBAN, February 27 – The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) student leader at Durban University of Technology (DUT), Bonginkosi Khanyile, has told striking unions that EFF leadership would “descend” on the campus if a seven-week wage dispute was not resolved by Tuesday.

Khanyile was addressing hundreds of striking workers, including academics, at Currie’s Fountain in Durban on Tuesday. Striking employees were locked-out of the campus on Monday.

The gathering took place just hours before the deputy minister of higher education Buti Manamela was set to meet with DUT management and representatives from the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu), National Tertiary Education Union (Nteu) and Tertiary Education National Union of South Africa (Tenusa) and smaller affiliates.

Private security guards contracted to the university were out in full force on Tuesday, some in riot gear and looking visibly nervous as they guarded the locked gates that led to the building housing council chambers.

“If [Nehawu] fails to address this issue, we have contacted the national leadership of the EFF; they are on standby. If they fail, the commander-in-chief, president Julius Malema, is going to come down,” said Khanyile, to whistles and cheers from the crowd.

“We wish Nehawu well, and we hope there is going to be a resolution. If there is no resolution, tomorrow, the leadership of the EFF is going to come in on auto- pilot. So comrades, rest assured we are going to resolve this issue,” he said.

In mid-February, the university suspended all academic programmes until further notice due to the impasse. It also implemented “no work, no pay” for striking employees.

In a statement released on Monday night, Vice-Chancellor Thandwa Mthembu said that management docked “about three weeks” for the February salary run and another three weeks would be docked for March.

“The truth is‚ that management has continued to pay employee contributions towards pension‚ medical aid‚ group life‚ etc. just to ensure that our staff don’t default on these. Amounts advanced by the university towards these costs will be recouped later,” said Mthembu.

“The initial 4% salary offer was made with financial affordability and sustainability in mind. During the course of negotiations, this figure increased to 4.5%, 5%, 5.25%, 5.5%, 5.75%, 6%, 6.25% and eventually, 6.5% which was our final offer, as Council had reached its ceiling. This 6.5% increase in basic pay and the 6.5% increase in the housing allowance will place the University into a R12 million financial deficit for 2018,” said Mthembu.

“[W]ith the 6.5% offer, DUT is already R12 million in the red. If the unions’ demands were to be met, DUT would be in deficit to the tune of about R62 million. Even if the unions reduced their demand from 10% to 8.5%, the deficit would only reduce to R52 million.

“DUT simply does not have such money for salaries. Given DUT’s rundown facilities, we have a maintenance plan with a bill of R1.2 billion (as of 2014), which would have escalated by now,” he said.

– African News Agency (ANA)

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