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Nehawu vows to fight firing of suspended Unisa union shop-stewards

Unisa’s Nehawu affiliated workers continue with strike action in spite of a court interdict. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)

Unisa’s Nehawu affiliated workers continue with strike action in spite of a court interdict. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi/African News Agency (ANA)

Published May 9, 2022


Pretoria - The National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) at Unisa has vowed to fight against the alleged “union bashing” antics of the university, after five shop-stewards affiliated with the union were fired with immediate effect.

On Friday, Unisa announced that it had decided to permanently fire five members of staff who had been on precautionary suspension since April 19, for violation of the Unisa Ethics Code and Employee Disciplinary Code.

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The university said the reasons for the termination of employment were multi-fold – the employees had violated their terms of suspension by inciting public violence, causing malicious damage to property, as well as organising and leading the forceful disruption of Unisa graduation ceremonies between March and April.

And, they had violated a court order prohibiting such actions.

“Despite repeated advice and warnings by the university to the striking Nehawu members to cease and desist from participating in an illegal, unprotected strike, they continued to lead and organise an unlawful strike by university employees aligned to the union.

“They intimidated and harassed the employees who were not in support of their unlawful conduct, blocked university entrances, which actions have seen operations of the university, in particular the planned Autumn Graduations, brought to a halt, and other employees unable to access some campuses to report for duty,” it said.

The university stressed that the illegal strike was continuing to this day.

Its management said its actions were a result of its duty to protect the academic programme, preserve the image and reputation of the university, as well as ensure that staff, students, and other stakeholders could access Unisa premises without hindrance, and free from fear and intimidation.

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Unisa said even though it had kept its doors open for engagement, Nehawu had outrightly rejected any advances to address the issues since the first disruptions in March.

Nehawu regional chairperson Ivan Ramogale said the union was angered and highly disappointed by Vice-Chancellor Professor Puleng LenkaBula and management’s decision to “unlawfully” terminate the employment contracts of its shop stewards.

Ramogale said it was clear that their dismissal was predetermined by the vice-chancellor from the onset, when letters of precautionary suspension and intent to institute disciplinary action were issued.

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“The vice-chancellor didn’t follow the legal requirements of the Labour Relations Act, which state that discipline against a trade union representative or an employee who is an office bearer of a trade union shouldn’t be instituted without first informing and consulting the union.”

Ramogale said university management was alerted to the provision in the law, but had chosen to ignore it.

He rubbished allegations that the union had ignored advances by the university to engage on the issues, stating that the union had implored LenkaBula to engage in meaningful consultation with the union as a matter of urgency. “We, therefore, expected the vice-chancellor on her return from her overseas trip, to immediately avail herself to meet us as we have formally confirmed our availability for an engagement only to be surprised by the abrupt decision to terminate the employment contracts of our shop stewards.

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“This step by the Unisa management confirms our assertion that the action was predetermined. We are of the view that the actions of management are abhorrent, very high- handed, and tantamount to union bashing.”

Ramogale said Nehawu was vehemently opposed to all forms of intimidation and victimisation, including union bashing, and as a result, it would be consulting its lawyers to secure a legal opinion on the matter.

At the same time, he said the national union would also consider mobilising its members on a course of action in defence of workers.

“The national union will do everything in its power to defend its members while remaining open for any engagement with the employer as previously communicated,” he added.

The regional chairperson said the leadership would be meeting with its members at the university today to discuss the latest developments and decide on a course of action.

Unisa management, meanwhile, urged all employees to cease and desist from participating in the illegal, unprotected strike and to report for duty with immediate effect as it would apply a no work, no pay rule for employees.

Pretoria News