Workers locked in Wits office following pay protest

Outsourced electrical workers have occupied the MJL Electrical offices on campus, after not being paid. Photo: Roxanne Joseph

Outsourced electrical workers have occupied the MJL Electrical offices on campus, after not being paid. Photo: Roxanne Joseph

Twenty-three Wits outsourced workers, who have not been paid four weeks, were locked in an office at Wits University yesterday afternoon during a sit-in, allegedly by their manager.

The electricians, employees of MJL Electrical, are still in the office located in Central Block.

George Cresswold, the owner of the company contracted by the university, locked the doors at 4pm, after the workers decided to occupy  the office over the payment dispute.

He allegedly told them he believed they would steal computers and other office property if he did not.

“One of the workers was outside and he went to campus control and got them to unlock the door,” one of the electricians told Wits Vuvuzela this morning. He asked not to be named.

According to the electrician, deputy vice chancellor Prof Tawana Kupe attempted to resolve the impasse by telling Cresswold that if anything was stolen or damaged, he could sue him.

“I’ll pay for it,” Kupe said according to one of the electrician.

The workers have been in dispute with Cresswold, since the end of last year over outstanding pay. They returned to work one week ago, after nearly a month of not working, but once again were not paid for the last 23 days of work.

When contacted by Wits Vuvuzela, Cresswold was unavailable for comment.

Yesterday evening, the workers went into a meeting with Cresswold, Kupe, deputy vice chancellor Prof Beatrys Lacquet and Dawn Taylor, director of the university’s legal office.

Kupe and Lacquet organised for the workers to each be paid R400, so that they could get home but it was “too late and we didn’t want to risk our lives at one in the morning,” according to the workers. They also arranged for the workers to have KFC delivered to them after the meeting, as they had not eaten since being locked in the office.

In solidarity 

According to the workers, Cresswold wanted to “chase them out” even after they had been paid the R400, at around 1am. “He is a liar and dishonest man,” they said.

Wits Economic Freedom Fighters chairperson Vuyani Pambo, who was present at the meeting, said  the workers were “being treated as slaves”. During the meeting, Pambo said, Cresswold did not respond to questions on how to resolve the dispute.

“They have families, responsibilities and kids, but he [Cresswold] is only offering them R400,” he told Wits Vuvuzela late last night.