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Concern over illegal protest action by Nehawu as Nteu accepts revised offer and calls off industrial action.

Clocktower at night by Sophie Smith

Date Released: Wed, 10 May 2017 13:30 +0200

Rhodes University is extremely concerned about an illegal and unprocedural protest action which took place on campus today against the requirements of a signed agreement between the University and organised labour in the institution.

In terms of the Labour Relations Act which underpins the agreement, Unions are required to give a 48 hours’ notice before any industrial action commences. The agreement signed between the University and the Unions “to maintain peace and harmony within the employment relationship” at the University requires all parties to “adhere to the provisions of the applicable labour legislation.”

No notice was received from Nehawu about today’s protest action, which saw rubbish bins being trashed and contents strewn around the main administration building where protesters had assembled.

The University has cautioned protesting staff and urged them to report for duty to avoid disciplinary action.

Another round of negotiations is planned for today.

Earlier this week, Rhodes responded to two memoranda received late last month from the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU) and the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU). The response followed a revised salary adjustment offer to the Unions.

NTEU has formally communicated its acceptance of the revised offer. NEHAWU has rejected it.  

The University has noted the adverse impact of the industrial action, which until yesterday took a form of a go-slow, on services at some dining halls. Every effort is being made to alleviate the impact on all affected areas.

Addressing a combined meeting of academic and administrative leadership this morning, Vice Chancellor, Dr Sizwe Mabizela, reiterated his deep concern about deteriorating state of hygiene at some halls and pleaded for calm and level-headeness in dealing with a complex situation which requires urgent, creative and responsible resolution.

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 has always depended on fee-paying students for its annual income and cash flow. For over a century, Rhodes students came from a social and economic stratum, which could afford to pay fees. The fee payment structure included a minimum initial payment and a settlement of the full liability by May of each year. This is no longer the case. Since 2015, the University carries a multi-million rand debt owing to non-payment of fees by students.

The University has embarked on a fundamental reengineering programme, which focusses on the size and shape of the institution. A range of short-term interventions to contain and reduce expenditure include:

•    An improved approach to identify and harness alternative sources of income.
•    A partial moratorium has been placed on the filling of support staff vacancies. Only essential posts as determined by a committee headed by the Vice-Chancellor will be filled;
•    A moratorium has been placed on non-essential consultancy contracts;
•    A partial moratorium has been placed of the re-grading of support staff posts;
•    Restrictions on all travel, accommodation and catering costs;
•    Exclusion of all year-end functions paid for by the University;
•    Restrictions on team-building and planning sessions funded from University funds.

The University is doing all in its power to minimise impact of the current financial situation on the academic project. The various faculties have been requested to review the scheduling of tests and other academic activities to mitigate the impact of the industrial action.

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