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Hopes high as Buti Manamela meets with unions and management to break the impasse at DUT

Thabo Mohlala

The protracted labour strike that has crippled academic activities at the Durban University of Technology (DUT) may end tomorrow if all goes well; this is according to Khaya Xaba, spokesperson of the National Health, Education and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu).

There are three other unions but Nehawu commands strong support among the striking workers at the institution. Xaba told Inside Education this morning he was optimistic the strike would end tomorrow following a scheduled meeting between Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training (DHET), Buti Manamela, the unions and DUT’s management.

Manamela’s involvement follows calls from the public that DHET should mediate to end the protracted strike which is entering its 7th week. The unions and the DUT management have failed to reach an agreement after several meetings.

“We welcome the interaction between the parties and we are optimistic that the involvement of the Deputy Minister will have us to find a solution,” said Xaba.

Xaba said the main sticking point was about salary increases which the employer refused to accede to.

“We wanted 8.25% salary hike and R9 000 once-off bonus payment to our members and employer offered 6.25% which we refused. They employer pleads poverty and we don’t believe they cannot afford to meet our demand. We tried to engage them further but to no avail. Two mediation talks under the auspices of the CCMA collapsed. But we hope that given the impact the strike is having on the academic programme, we should be able to sign an agreement tomorrow,” said Xaba.

Universities South Africa’s head, Professor Ahmed Bawa said they were concerned that if the matter was not resolved soon, the whole academic year would be lost. He called on the parties to resolve the impasse in the interest of the students who had never been to classes since the 2018/19 academic year started early this month.

Addressing the media last week Thursday, Professor Thandwa Mthembu, DUT’s vice-chancellor, expressed the same fears.

Said Mthembu: “Sadly, we are still deadlocked after months of one-on-one negotiations. Many of our students come from poor and working-class backgrounds and this staff strike is having a very negative effect on them and their families.

“We also have thousands of students whose parents and guardians have worked very hard to save money for their studies. Many have taken loans to register at DUT. International students, for example, have very limited time to complete their course credits and return home. This strike compromises their studies and affects our responsibilities towards our students.”

Manamela has been dispatched to some troubled institutions before and has been successfully managed to resolve them.  He mediated between the universities management and the Economic Freedom Fighters who encouraged students to storm university campuses to register in-person at the institutions of their choice following the announcement of the fee-free higher education. Universities had banned walk-in registrations at campuses. Manamela also dealt with the situation at the Capricorn TVET College following a stampede during registration where some students got hurt.

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