Pretoria - Unisa has taken a firm stance against protesting workers affiliated to the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) after yet another graduation ceremony had to be cancelled.
The university management indicated that they met yesterday to consider the institutional instability caused by acts of lawlessness on the part of organised labour under the banner of Nehawu.
The university indicated that management was unanimous in its affirmation of the constitutional rights of workers to protest and organise workers around labour relations matters, but stressed that it did not approve or condone lawlessness, violence and intimidation.
University spokesperson Victor Dlamini said, as a result, university management had taken steps to protect the integrity of the university and its academic programmes, as well as to protect life and property.
Dlamini said a number of measures had been approved to mitigate against anarchy and lawlessness, which included the suspension of five staff members as of Tuesday, pending a disciplinary hearing, for allegedly organising an illegal and unprotected strike, as well as causing the disruption of the autumn graduation ceremony.
“Such reckless activities have clearly caused harm to the image of the university, and scores of workers, students and visitors were exposed to immense risks.
“A court interdict is in place and enforceable against any illegal activity which seeks to disturb the operations of the university. This includes intimidation, harassment and any other related activity as directed by the court order.”
In addition, Dlamini said owing to the violent nature of the disruptions, the university had taken urgent steps to upscale security at its campuses, as well as to engage relevant government agencies which had the capacity and resources to manage security situations that fell outside the scope of normal labour relations disputes.
The reason for this, he said, was due to the fact that the dispute over salary adjustments, which had been running for a few months, had been resolved amicably, with only the fundamental issues being the cause of the disruption of peace at Unisa.
Dlamini added that workers participating in the illegal and unprotected strike were fully aware of the court interdict in place, with no certificate being granted by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). Such workers were advised to report for work as failure would result in disciplinary processes being instituted in line with the university policy and law.
Dlamini said management remained open to engaging on real and substantive worker issues, including the strategic issues of transformation and the future of Unisa. However, lawlessness, violence and intimidation did not constitute part of that agenda, he said.
"As a university, we have a duty to all our internal and external stakeholders, including our workers, and our biggest concern is that students and families from especially economically marginalised communities have been denied their rights to graduate in dignity.
"Some of these graduates are first-generation graduates in their families and the devastation is immeasurable and, in some instances, irreversible. Unisa cannot afford this kind of harm to continue unabated,“ he added.
Protesting workers also made their way to the Department of Higher Education and Training to deliver a memorandum of demands yesterday.
Nehawu was not available to comment on the developments late yesterday afternoon.