Hundreds of Durban University of Technology (DUT) staff members embarked on a combined union strike on Monday, labelling their vice chancellor aloof and "not on the ground".
The strike, organised by the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), National Health Education & Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) and Tertiary Education National Union of SA (Tenusa), saw staff gather outside vice-chancellor Thandwa Mthembu's office.
Speaking on behalf of the unions, shop steward Milton Estrice told News24 that staff are unhappy about a salary issue that was meant to be finalised back in September 2017.
"This new management has employed another way of dealing with salary negotiations that has led to a deadlock and as a result, as staff, we had no option but to go to the CCMA for a strike certificate –– to demonstrate to management that without staff, there can be no university."
Estrice said there had been little communication with Mthembu since he took office in 2016.
He said staff felt bullied and believed high-handedness was being used.
"They are not taking care of the staff morale. Staff morale is at an all-time low –– we're talking about unilateral restructuring, we're talking about the vice-chancellor's closed-door policy. He is distant from the people on the ground."
No mutual resolution achieved
He added that staff had to "go through many doors" to get to management.
"It's not good for an institution that's supposed to be people-driven and is supposed to be rendering a service to the community. You don't need a structure that is so hierarchical that the top people are not in touch with the people on the ground."
Estrice said that the unions were open to discussion, but had to first get an audience with Mthembu and upper management.
"The vice chancellor was meant to receive our memorandum today, but at the last minute indicated he could not make it."
Estrice said workers would continue the strike until their demands were met.
Meanwhile, DUT spokesperson Noxolo Memela conceded that the university had not concluded 2018 salary negotiations in time for implementation on January 1.
She said the university had met with the aggrieved worker representatives, having "several meetings" with no mutual resolution.
"DUT management remains committed to resolving this impasse as soon as possible, particularly because this is a critical time of the year for the university.
"The university wishes to apologise for the inconvenience that the current industrial action may cause for students, parents, staff and other key stakeholders."