Associate professor at Unisa, 
Venitha Pillay. Picture: unisa.ac.za
Durban - AN award-winning South African academic who emigrated to the US to take care of her special-needs daughter has taken Unisa to court.

Venitha Pillay, an associate professor in Unisa’s Department of Education Leadership and Management, claimed Unisa had failed to pay her and allow her to work from home in Washington.

She said she had not absconded nor breached her contract of employment and has vowed to fight back to ensure her rights, in terms of the Employment Equity Act and Labour Relations Act, are protected.

Pillay, who has been employed at Unisa since October 2016, will take her employer to the Labour Court in Johannesburg next month over its work-from-home policy. She and her employer had reached a settlement pertaining to the salary.

In her founding affidavit, she said she lived in the US because she was unable to find appropriate schooling for her daughter in South Africa. It was not in her child’s best interests to move back to South Africa, she said.

She said Unisa refused to engage with her on the possible means to reasonably accommodate her needs. Pillay said Unisa was a university of distance education and it was not necessary for her to be physically present to render her services.

“I use modern technology such as FaceTime, email, Skype and WhatsApp to do so. I also telephone students and staff of the respondent at my own expense.”

She said she did not lecture to students as was the case with a contact university.

In Unisa’s responding papers, the department’s chairperson, Pertunia Rebotile Machaisa, said at no stage during the interview process did Pillay indicate an intention to leave South Africa and that it was patently clear that the nature of the position required frequent on-campus presence and work.

She said Pillay’s conduct over the past 18 months had resulted in serious disruption to the proper management and administration of the department and that she refused to accept her employer required her frequent presence on campus.

“Instead, she seeks to achieve and preserve a unique dispensation, not available to any other Unisa staff member, which will allow her to live abroad and work as and when she pleases, with no accountability or managerial oversight, and to the serious detriment of her duties towards colleagues and students. This untenable situation simply cannot be allowed to persist indefinitely.”

Machaisa said if Pillay was unwilling to maintain a presence on campus, it was likely Unisa would seek her dismissal. 

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