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DUT calls on striking employees to return to work in the best interests of our students

DUT calls on striking employees to return to work in the best interests of our students

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Vice-Chancellor’s Media Statement
22 February 2018

DUT calls on striking employees to return to work in the best interests of our students and saving the first semester

The Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the Durban University of Technology Professor Thandwa
Mthembu, has urged staff to please suspend the strike and return to work whilst negotiations
to settle the salary dispute continue. Professor Mthembu says that whilst the staff have a
right to strike, the current dispute, which is now in its sixth week, is ultimately affecting our
students.

“Many of our students at DUT come from poor and working class backgrounds and this staff
strike is having a very negative effect on them and their families. Our job at DUT should be
about providing our students with a quality educational experience that empowers them with
knowledge and skills that will benefit our economy and our country,” says Prof. Mthembu.
The Vice-Chancellor added, “we also have thousands of students who are self-payers, where
their parents and guardians have worked very hard to save money, many have taken loans
and they have made a tremendous sacrifice to register and fund their child’s education at
DUT. We have international students at DUT who still need to complete their course credits
and return home. This strike compromises their studies and affects our commitments and
responsibilities towards our students. The University has students in some programmes that
depend on external companies for their projects and work experience and sadly, the ongoing
staff strike is damaging their ambitions too.”

The current salary negotiation is deadlocked after the Unions rejected the University’s final
offer of a 6.5% increase in basic salary and a 6.5% increase in the housing allowance.
Salary negotiations commenced in 2017 and despite our best intentions, the Unions were not
prepared to accept that we all have a responsibility to ensure the financial sustainability of
our University.

Prof. Mthembu clarified the situation so far, “The Unions initially demanded a 10% increase
in salary, a R400 increase in the monthly housing allowance and a R9000 once-off bonus, or,
a 14th Cheque (which is not aligned to any performance criteria). We made it clear that DUT
could not afford these demands. The University receives a salary mandate from the DUT
Council and after three interventions with the Council Executive Committee over December
and January, our salary offer was revised three times. On Management’s insistence, the
University pleaded with the Unions to accept mediation at the CCMA. The Unions initially
rejected our efforts to seek mediation however, the University eventually managed to
convince labour that mediation could work. Sadly, after four days of CCMA mediation, we
could not reach an agreement.

The Vice-Chancellor added that “last week, following a request from NEHAWU’s provincial
leadership, our Chair of Council, Mr Wiseman Madinane, met with the Union’s officials in
Durban and a constructive discussion was held. A common understanding was reached that
could have suspended the strike. However, last Wednesday, when I invited the three Union
leaders to meet with me to discuss what our principals had suggested the night before, the
Union leaders declined my invitation to meet. There has now been disengagement from
NEHAWU’s provincial leadership. We have since asked the Unions to consider arbitration as
a means to reach an agreement. To date, they have declined our request for arbitration.”
“All the while, the Unions have rejected our above-inflationary salary increase and they have
continued with their strike action, compromising the education of our students. The
University was forced to implement the ‘no work no pay’ principle on payday as this was
announced at the start of the staff strike and acknowledged by both parties when the
picketing rules were signed. In fact, the Unions had even used this as a negotiating trade-off
during salary discussions, so they were well aware of the University’s position regarding ‘no
work no pay.’ The University acted within the confines of the law as per the Labour Relations
Act,” said Prof Mthembu.

On Tuesday this week, the University notified the Unions that it will be implementing a
lockout. Whilst this decision was not taken lightly, it was made with a view to help speed up
a resolution that will result in the strike being suspended and ultimately, our main objective,
to get our students back in class.

The Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training Mr Buti Manamela was meant to have
visited DUT on Tuesday. However, the Deputy Minister decided to await the outcome of the
engagement between the NEHAWU provincial leadership and the Chair of the DUT Council.
Unfortunately, the NEHAWU provincial leadership has now disengaged. As a result, the
Deputy Minister will be visiting DUT early next week. In the meantime, he will engage with
the national Union leadership. We hope that his intervention will result in an agreement on a
mechanism to re-engage with the Unions so that we can finally reach a rational and objective
solution.

The Vice-Chancellor wants to commence with the 2018 academic calendar. “However, we
also want to resist the call from those who desire a total shutdown of the University. A total
shutdown will hurt our students as this will result is the closure of residences and the
suspension of student registration. We do not want that to happen. We want our University
to remain open. We want our students to remain in residence. We want to continue with
student registration. We want the Unions to suspend their strike and get back to the
negotiating table.”

“I am really concerned that our Unions feel that it is appropriate to hold the futures of our
hard working, deserving and ambitious young students to ransom. There is such a positive
spirit in our country right now. Yesterday, the Minister of Finance announced a significant
allocation of additional funding for Higher Education and DUT students stand to benefit from
this progressive announcement. So I urge my colleagues who are still on strike, please
suspend the strike action and please return to work whilst we continue with salary
negotiations. Please allow our students, many of whom are from poor and working class
backgrounds, to benefit from the increased support made available by our government,” said
Prof. Mthembu.

Ends.

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