I'd like to challenge Ziyana Lategan's open letter: Prof Mandla Makhanya - iLIVE

22 March 2016 - 11:59 By Prof  Mandla Makhanya

The letter by Ziyana Lategan published in this space on Friday 18 March 2016 (An open letter to Unisa's Mandla Makhanya) cannot go unchallenged.

An aerial view of the University of South Africa (Unisa) Pretoria campus.
An aerial view of the University of South Africa (Unisa) Pretoria campus.
Image: Supplied

I shall not respond to the personal attack and the defamatory nature of her statements, but rather focus on the factual situation in relation to what she terms “the crisis at your institution”, evidently referring to the protest and industrial action on the campus following disagreements  with management on the matter of insourcing.

Given my regular communications to the university community informing them of developments on the matter of insourcing of workers contracted to independent service providers, it would seem that Ziyana  Lategan either intentionally or selectively  chooses to ignore the facts, for reasons best known to herself.

The following is the factual situation regarding insourcing at Unisa:

  • At a Council meeting on 4 December 2015, the Council of Unisa committed to the insourcing of workers contracted to independent service providers and appointed a Multi-Stakeholder Task Team (MSTT) under the chairpersonship of an independent legal expert to deal with this matter. The MSTT - consisting of representatives of all internal role-players - is mandated to gather information and engage on the various issues of insourcing. The MSTT will submit a regular report to Council but Council resolved that matters from the MSTT requiring urgent attention, be submitted to the Executive Committee of Council for consideration.
  • Since the commencement of the current academic year on 4 January 2016 Unisa has experienced sporadic protest action driven for various reasons including unhappiness about the dismissal of some workers in the service of Red Alert, one of the independent companies providing security services to Unisa.
  • I subsequently led a delegation of management in two consecutive engagements with the striking workers and their representatives on 1 March 2016. Flowing from these meetings and after further engagement with the management of Red Alert, two employees that were dismissed by the company on the grounds of disciplinary infractions were reinstated and their outstanding salaries for January and February 2016 were paid out the following day. Another three dismissed employees (that Red Alert refused to re-instate) were absorbed by Unisa as independent contractors until the finalisation of the insourcing decisions by Council. Their outstanding salaries for January and February 2016 were then paid to them.
  • Furthermore, management agreed that study benefits be extended to the affected workers and their dependents with immediate effect.  As a result of these concessions, the protest - and disruption of university activities - was terminated.
  • At the MSTT meeting of Wednesday 2 March 2016, however, the issue of a “top-up payment” to workers in the employment of our independent service providers for security, cleaning, catering and gardening services was discussed, but failed to yield a result. Worker representatives proposed a top-up payment of R8,000 across the board for all affected workers. Management presented alternative scenarios, which took  cognizance of the university’s financial position, affordability and better ensured the financial sustainability of Unisa and its operations
  • At the Special Meeting of the Executive Committee of Council on 3 March 2016, the Exco took cognisance of the discussions at the MSTT and against the frame of ‘affordability’, resolved on an immediate minimum wage increase for currently outsourced workers in the cleaning and protection services, whilst noting that further analysis was required in respect of catering and gardening services. With regard to protection services, a R4,000 minimum wage (targeting a minimum payment of R6,500 in 2020) was agreed, and in respect of staff in the cleaning services a R3,500 minimum wage (targeting a minimum of R5,500 in 2020) was agreed. The decision of the EXCO was communicated to the Unisa community on Friday 4 March 2016 with the indication that any further negotiations on salary should take place in the university’s Bargaining Forum.
  • The offer was rejected by the worker representatives and led to the intensified strike action and disruption of our operations on Friday (4 March 2016)  and the subsequent occupation of the ORT Building, the vandalizing and attempted arson of a vehicle in front of the Theo van Wijk Building, the torching of a Unisa vehicle parked in front of the ORT Building, as well as the Chemistry building on the Muckleneuk Campus being set alight, resulting in the entire contents of an office being destroyed.
  • These unfortunate acts of violence and the violation of the rights of employees, students and visitors to our campus necessitated action from management to return the university to a state of stability and enable operations to continue. On Friday afternoon (4 March 2016) management obtained a court interdict from the Pretoria High Court restraining the striking workers and their supporters forthwith from any disruption of the normal operations of the University. The interdict applies to all premises over which the university has control.  Since then, and with the continuing support of the SAPS, normal operations have returned to the university.  

Unisa management is acutely aware of the socio-economic constraints and the plight of workers contracted to our independent service providers.

We are in ongoing discussions with the management of our contracted service providers to ensure that they comply with legislative obligations and industry salary norms.

Recognising the existence and impact of historic injustices that permeate the South African socio-political landscape, Unisa is committed to do its part to address these issues. However, it would be irresponsible, if not disastrous, to ignore the current financial realities of Unisa particularly in light of the pressing challenges of higher education in our country.

I owe a responsibility to all staff and students at Unisa and it is a duty that I will continue to perform to the best of my ability. I will continue to balance the various demands confronting the university, always cognizant of the underpinning and overarching commitment to Unisa’s sustainability. I will not be coerced or pressured into taking shortsighted, populist decisions that will imperil the future of the University.

Prof  Mandla Makhanya
Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Unisa