NEHAWU Statement On Plans For The Re-Opening Of Post School Education And Training Institutions

NEHAWU Statement On Plans For The Re-Opening Of Post School Education And Training Institutions

Tuesday January 19, 2021

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU) notes the media briefing by the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr. Blade Nzimande on the reopening of the institutions of higher learning. However, we wish to express our disappointment on the approach of the Minister which completely lacks consultation with us on matters affecting the lives of our members and workers in general hence we reiterate our position that there is nothing about us without us.

The lack of consultation undermines the essence of our existence in the sector and discourages the maintenance of labour peace in these institutions. Indeed, lack of consultation shall make it difficult for us to cooperate with the imposed directives that have a bearing or direct impact with our working environment and conditions without being involved hence we are contemplating to invoke the Labour Relations Act as amended and COVID-19 relevant regulations as we shall not be fighting for our recognition after more than 25 years of our democracy.

On NSFAS and access to higher education

The national union notes the letter by DHET directing the University of South Africa (UNISA) to reduce its intake of students and the delay on the resumption of the academic year. NEHAWU is convinced that the University of South African has been at the center of providing access to the majority of the working class and African students from previously disadvantaged background. With that in mind, the union wants to advice the Minister to reconsider his position and allow UNISA to register all students who have applied for admission on time. This will help to lessen the pressure on the other 25 universities who continue to exclude our people in numbers.

The national union further notes the report in relation to the National Students Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and concerned about the snail pace in which applications are being processed as majority of the institutions commences with their academic year in March 2021. In this regard, NEHAWU calls for the expediting of the approval process of qualifying students to avoid last minutes approvals which later leads to funding cancellations. We applaud the department for ensuring that students who are still trying to complete the 2020 academic year continue to receive funding.

We want to encourage NSFAS to work with institutions in relation to the laptop project and fast-track the delivery of the gadgets to all NSFAS students before the academic year starts in 2021. We are vehemently opposed to the exclusion of students due to the non-delivery of gadgets which has resulted in many students from historically disadvantaged background not completing their academic year in 2020. We also call on NSFAS to extend the application period in order to accommodate all qualifying students to avert the return of unused funds to National Treasury while there are still students who are yearning for education.

The Minister has indicated that this year will be a pilot year for the Central Application Office to operate across the country as it is only operating in KwaZulu-Natal as part of facilitating access to university admissions. NEHAWU will wait for the Minister to start the consultation process in this regard as this will have a direct impact on workers who are currently employed to deal with admissions at various institutions so as to ensure that this process does not lead to redundancy or any form of retrenchments. As such, NEHAWU will convene an urgent meeting with South African Students Congress (SASCO) as its strategic ally in the terrain of transformation of higher education in order to deal with the preparations for the right to learn campaign including the Young Communist League of South Africa (YCLSA).

eLearning as mode of teaching

The union wants to reiterate its position that any form of learning must not be exclusionary particularly to students coming from poor background and located in rural areas. The 2020 Academic year has proven beyond reasonable doubt that the country and some institutions of higher learning are not ready to embrace eLearning as only 10 out of 26 institutions managed to complete the academic year in 2020. Poor institutions do not have financial muscles to procure relevant technological equipment’s that enables them to go online and supports students properly. This is coupled by poor network infrastructure in the country which is worsened by the ongoing load shedding.

Return to Work in universities

NEHAWU notes the proposal by the department that universities must develop their own plans on the return to work of workers and submit such to the department as opposed to forcing universities to adhere to the current guidelines of allowing 50% of the workforce as part of the workplace reprioritisation as announced by the President as conditions of Alert Level Three (3) of the Lockdown. We are extremely concerned that this might open a window for abuse of workers by various uncaring institutions who potentially will recall more than 50% of workers back to unsafe campuses with dilapidated infrastructure. We hope that the department will continue to monitor and approve all plans as submitted by various institutions based on the COVID-19 regulations.

The national union reiterates its call for the department to ensure that all workplaces must have established functioning health and safety committees with clear plans to protect the lives of workers and our members in particular. These committees must be inclusive of representatives from trade unions and must ensure that workplaces comply fully with the Occupational Health and Safety (Act). In this regard, we call on the Department of Employment and Labour to punish employers who refuses to form these committees as consequence management.

All institutions of higher learning have a responsibility to prepare for the reopening and must ensure that workers and students are supplied with adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs), sanitisers and there is space for social distancing.

NEHAWU will continue to work with the department on their plans to save lives and the academic year by observing developments of the progression of the virus. We also support the call by the department to prioritise Higher Health workers with the provision of vaccines as it arrives as they are at the forefront of serving lives in the sector.

On TVET Colleges

We note that TVET students will return in a staggered manner on 25th January 2021, 1st, 8th and 15th February 2021. This will cause major challenges because colleges have not put measures in place to deal with this huge influx of students. Technically, all the programs will be operating fully as from the 15th February 2021, unlike in 2020 whereby one program was allowed at a time. The national union firmly believes that the decision by majority unions in the General Public Service Sector Bargaining Council (GPSSBC) Further Education and Training Colleges Bargaining Unit (FETCBU) to have the return to work or campus delayed by two weeks as adopted should be considered. This will allow matriculants opportunity to enrol in TVET Colleges for the 2021 academic year. Our observation is that majority of TVET Colleges were no longer adhering to COVID-19 protocols hence the report of 23 fatalities in the sector due to COVID-19 complications. In this regard, we wish to warn the department not to undermine the hard-won workers gain and fundamental right to bargaining, hence, we demand the Minister to respect and enforce the agreement reached at GPSSBC on returning to work.

On CET Colleges

The decision to align the CET Colleges academic calendar with basic education is welcomed as the majority of Community Learning Centers (CLCs) are hosted by schools. We also welcome the decision by the National Treasury to approve R45,7 million that will be transferred to CET colleges during the 2021/22 financial year earmarked allocation for cleaning services.

Issued by NEHAWU Secretariat
Zola Saphetha (General Secretary) at 082 558 5968
December Mavuso (Deputy General Secretary) at 082 558 5969;
Khaya Xaba (NEHAWU National Spokesperson) at 082 455 2500 - email

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