'It's either an 8% salary increase or strike continues' – Fort Hare Nehawu workers

Nehawu members at the University of Fort Hare are forging ahead with their protracted strike despite students' concerns about its negative impact on the academic programme at the institution.

The workers have been on strike for almost two months and say they are not prepared to accept the university's offer of a 7.5% increase.  

On Tuesday students at the university barricaded the entrance gates to express their concerns over the continued strike.

University spokesperson Khotso Moabi told News24 on Wednesday that the students said they were unhappy with the way lectures and other academic activities were being affected.

He said they were calling for the university to return to normality, and for teaching and learning to continue so that they can complete their exams.

"It's unfortunate that they (students) had to express themselves in that manner in terms of barricading the gates," Moabi added.

Not budging

The trade union's provincial secretary Miki Jaceni said on Wednesday that the university met with Nehawu's national leadership and also offered workers with a once-off gratuity of R3 000, but workers have declined the offer.

"It would be unfair for workers to move three times from their initial demands without any movement from management. So, we are saying workers are only prepared to accept anything that is more than 7.5%, even if it is 0.5 to make 8%," Jaceni said.

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The union is demanding an increase of 8% and a notch progression of 1%, while the university’s management said it can offer only 7.5%.

Jaceni said the union's initial demand was a 16% salary increase, but it then went down to 9%. He said the university has been steadfast on its 7.5% offer, which is why the union is also not budging from its 8% demand.

Moabi said university management was working hard to resolve the impasse with Nehawu.

"We engaged with the union and reiterated our offer, plus a once-off gratuity payment to assist our staff.

'8% increase would be against government directive'

"We seem to not be reaching each other at all. The university has made a firm offer of 7.5%," he said.

Moabi reiterated that the university was in a difficult position as it could not exceed its 7.5% offer because of budgetary constraints.

Last month he told News24 that the union's demands would place the university at odds with a Department of Higher Education directive that salary costs should not exceed 62% of the operational budget.

"If we were to accept the 8%, we would be infringing the directive of the department," Moabi reiterated to News24.

Moabi said the university was working with the police to ensure that calm is maintained on the grounds. He said the university remains open and lectures and other academic activities were continuing where possible.