Video: Tear smoke, rubber bullets as police chase away striking Tuks workers

Henry

The University of Pretoria (UP) has confirmed the use of tear gas and rubber bullets in a situation in which the police dispersed striking workers at their Hatfield campus on Monday morning.

Rikus Delport, spokesman for the UP, says a group of striking staff members illegally disrupted academic activities.

“Police officers were called to the incident in which they asked the striking staff to follow the strike rules.

“We take all reports of the use of force seriously and are currently gathering information to fully understand the circumstances surrounding this incident. Our priority is always the safety and well-being of all staff and students. We will provide further updates as more information becomes available.”

Delport says the striking staff have returned to the designated protest area, “and the police are still on site with our security staff to monitor the situation”.

“We strongly condemn the illegal disruption of academic activity on our campus. We want to assure our community that we will take relevant action against any individuals involved in these incidents.

“We are committed to resolving the disputes through constructive dialogue and within the limits of the law.

“The university thanks the UP community for their cooperation and understanding during this challenging time,” says Delport.

Court papers served on striking workers last week

Last Thursday, the University of Pretoria confirmed that court documents had been served on striking workers, informing them of the university’s decision to obtain a court order to maintain order and safety on its premises amid ongoing strike action.

The court order seeks to prevent striking workers from engaging in certain activities that could disrupt the operations and safety of the university community.

Reason for the strike action

Delport says the strike action, which was organized by unions affiliated to the university, comes after months of negotiations with the unions reached a deadlock.

“The university offered an increase of 4% which was rejected by the unions, who demanded an increase of 7%.

“The university was unable to meet this demand, which later led to this strike action,” he says.

“The university is subject to financial constraints. Our main income streams include government subsidies, tuition and accommodation fees and third stream income. Government subsidies account for 55% to 60% of our income, tuition fees account for approximately 40%, and the remaining portion is derived from third stream income.

“Over the past few years, government subsidies have not kept pace with the increases in operating expenses, and tuition fee increases have been limited by the minister of higher education, science and innovation.

“In 2024, we experienced a decrease of 1.7% in state funding, which further suppressed our financial resources. Coupled with increases in tuition fees and limited opportunities to increase third stream income, our overall income had an average increase of only 2.5%.”

He further says that the institution faces a significant increase in student debt, which now exceeds R650 million and is expected to increase further after the end of the 2023 financial year.

“These challenges place significant pressure on our financial resources, affecting our ability to meet immediate financial obligations and maintain the stability of our operations. In addition, the additional expenses associated with load shedding (more than R80 million in diesel costs) further worsen our financial situation.

“To meet these challenges, the university has used one-time reserves to finance budget deficits in recent years. However, this approach is unsustainable in the long term, putting the financial health of the institution at risk,” says Delport.

He says that as a proactive solution the university has developed a financial sustainability plan to improve its main income streams while austerity measures are introduced to reduce operating expenses.

“The successful implementation of this plan relies on the cooperation of all role players, including our staff.

“The university supports staff’s right to strike, as set out in the Labor Relations Act. We respect their decision to exercise this right, and we strive to ensure minimal disruption to the institution’s activities during this period.”

Delport says the management at the university remains committed to finding solutions to the concerns and issues raised by the unions.

“Despite our commitment to address the concerns, certain demands made by the unions are not achievable within our current financial constraints.

“We remain optimistic that through constructive dialogue and collaboration we can address the concerns raised by our staff while ensuring the continued success and sustainability of our institution.

“Our orientation week is also currently underway, during which we expect to welcome almost 8,500 first-year students to the university.

“The University of Pretoria reaffirms its commitment to its staff and students, and we are confident that together we will overcome this challenge and emerge stronger,” says Delport.