Blade Nzimande. Picture: GCIS/NTSWE MOKOENA
Blade Nzimande. Picture: GCIS/NTSWE MOKOENA

THE National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) has welcomed Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande’s attempts to end a nine-week strike by hundreds of University of Zululand workers.

Nehawu-affiliated workers at the university embarked on the strike on August 18, demanding a wage increase, pay progression, insourcing and the conversion of temporary staff to permanent employment. The strike entered its ninth week on Monday with no end in sight.

Two weeks ago nine vehicles belonging to the institution, including three buses, were torched by unknown people. Damage to property so far exceeds R5m. The university last week obtained an interdict from the high court that prevented Nehawu members from picketing inside its premises.

Nzimande on Friday met a delegation from Nehawu and he was appraised about the situation at the university. Workers told him what they thought could bring the strike to an end so that the academic programme could resume.

Nehawu chairman in KwaZulu-Natal Siyanda Zungu on Sunday confirmed the meeting with Nzimande. "He said he was concerned about the situation and the fact so many weeks have passed yet no solution has been forthcoming.

"We gave the minister our outlook on the problems and the conditions of the workers and students. He promised to intervene after speaking to the other side [the university] and we promised that we will do everything in our powers to ensure that the strike is resolved and lectures resume, and our students are able to write the year-end examinations," Zungu said.

Nzimande said on Saturday he had persuaded the union and the university to agree to the appointment of a six-member team to hold marathon negotiations to end the strike. The team would comprise three university officials and three from Nehawu, and it would start urgent negotiations.

"Under a normal situation, it is the duty of institutions and unions to try and find each other when there are strikes and other industrial action. But in this particular case, I decided to intervene because the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration had failed to resolve this strike and now we are entering a critical time of examinations," he said.

Nzimande urged both sides to try to find each other for the sake of the university and its students, who would be greatly disadvantaged if the strike persisted.

University spokeswoman Gcina Nhleko was not available to comment on Sunday. But she told Business Day on Thursday that the institution was doing all it could to find a solution to end the strike.

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