Wits students stage sit-in over jobs
Johannesburg - Wits university students spent the night at vice chancellor Adam Habib’s office to force the institution to secure employment for campus electrical workers who had lost their jobs earlier this year.
The workers had been employed by Wits contractor MJL Electrical, which was for months accused of not paying full wages or unemployment insurance.
Wits discontinued its contract with MJL earlier this year.
On Thursday morning when The Star team arrived at the vice chancellor's office the area was on lock down for security reasons but we were able to gain access.
Thirteen people - who all spent the night there - sat in Habib’s reception area. Five are students and members of the Wits EFF and Wits’ Workers Solidarity Committee.
“We are putting our degrees on the line for this cause and will continue to do so until outsourced workers are treated fairly,” said Wits EFF member Koketso Poho.
Deputy vice chancellor: Information, Knowledge and Infrastructure Management Tawana Kupe told The Star that the rights of the protesting students were not going to be infringed upon.
“The VC's office is not the place to protest. They are allowed to protest but in areas that will not disrupt university activities. At the same time they need to protest in a place where they can be seen and others can join.
“We're giving them time today to voluntarily leave and if they don't then we will have to use the (court) interdict and have police remove them from the VC's office,” Kupe said.
The protesters said they would not leave unless they were forced too.
“(The university) refused to do anything to secure the workers’ jobs,” said Thembi Luckett, a protesting student and member of Wits’ Workers Solidarity Committee.
The workers want Wits to employ them or to allow them to be absorbed by another university contractor.
“They promised to secure our jobs but at this stage they said it is not their own responsibility to do that,” said Richard Ndebele, a MJL worker.
Habib said the university could not afford to directly employ the workers without government subsidies or raising students’ fees by 15 percent, and that doing so would set an unrealistic precedent for all campus contract workers. He said Wits made sure the money it owed to MJL was directly paid to the workers.
Luckett said they had been there since shortly after noon.
“We have requested the students because they know the English. They can deal with this. They can answer questions on our behalf,” Ndebele said.
Wits spokeswoman Shirona Patel said Habib had told the protesters he would meet with workers directly or with their appointed union but would not discuss matters of salaries or employment with third parties, such as students.
“We've got university policies and procedures, that’s the appropriate route to follow,” Patel said.
The university told the protesters it would get a court interdict to remove them if they did not leave by Thursday morning.
But Luckett said they planned to stay “until our demands are met or until we're forced to leave”.