[04 June 2013]

Yesterday, Professor Adam Habib’s first day in office as Wits University’s new Vice Chancellor was marred by chaos on campus.Hundreds of workers – some of whom have worked at the university for over twenty years – are facing the loss of their jobs at the end of June.  Yesterday, these ‘outsourced’ workers were herded into an urgent meeting at 8am with the companies that employ them and told to queue up at the university’s Services department to be interviewed for the jobs they already have. Others were handed ‘termination notices’ by the companies. The panic that ensued led to an emergency high-level meeting between the Wits Workers Solidarity Committee (Wist WSC), workers’ unions, and the new Vice Chancellor.The university management’s handling of the matter has sparked fierce criticism from almost all constituencies at Wits University. Most recently, the executive of the representative body of academics (ASAWU) condemned the university management for its “callous treatment of workers”.At a demonstration last Tuesday, the Wits WSC asked the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Finance, Professor Tawana Kupe, to “treat workers with the dignity they deserved”. Workers demands were simple and reasonable: “guarantee all workers their jobs in line with existing labour legislation”. The university responded simply, saying: “no”.Yesterday, the Wits WSC met with Professor Habib. He indicated the university would proceed as planned, confirmed the university would not guarantee a single job, conceded there would be job losses, and that they would not allow workers direct representation in the processes that affected their lives.

Workers, staff and students are shocked and outraged at the university management’s arrogance. Since outsourcing was introduced in 2001 at Wits University, contract workers have been consistently abused and mistreated. Workers were called ‘k—rs’ by a senior university employee, forced to use separate entrances, forbidden from using the toilets they cleaned, banned from meeting on campus, and worker leaders have been dismissed for organising other workers against these apartheid-era practices.

A report commissioned to investigate the conditions of outsourced workers confirmed that working conditions were “unacceptably poor,” that workers’ constitutional rights, as well as the fundamental tenets of their human dignity, had been violated. The outgoing Vice-Chancellor, Professor Loyiso Nongxa, was forced to admit he was “ashamed” that this had happened at a place like Wits.

“Instead of engaging seriously around these terrible effects of outsourcing, the new university management under Professor Adam Habib has confirmed its commitment to treating the largest black workforce on campus as disposable, undeserving of human dignity and compassion,” said Tokelo Nhlapo, a member of the Wits WSC.

Workers have said they will not stand by idly while the new Wits University Vice-chancellor provides commentary on radio and TV about social justice, while his first act in office is to dispose of hundreds of black workers. They have warned Professor Habib and the entire university management that they will fight.A demonstration petitioning the Wits University Senate to intervene is planned for this Wednesday from 13h00 to 13h30 outside the university’s Senate Room, 2nd floor Senate House. Members of the media are invited.ISSUED BY:
WITS WORKERS SOLIDARITY COMMITTEEContact: 073 133 3012 / wsc.wits@gmail.com