Wits reaches an agreement with MJL electrical workers

Wits University has reached an agreement with protesters, including Wits Workers Solidarity and MJL Electrical workers, before a court interdict was issued to have them forcibly removed from the offices of the Wits Vice Chancellor Prof Adam Habib. 

SILENT STEP: MJL Electrical workers Sello Rampypedi, Kagiso Mokotedi, Samuel Mosia, Ben Lebese, Shadrach Baloyi, Forgive Mahlaugu and Tshifhiwa Matamela sat silently on the great hall steps before the meeting began.

File Photo


Protesters occupying the offices next to vice chancellor, Prof Adam Habib have reached an agreement with Wits University after previously being denied their demands that outsourced MJL workers be absorbed by another contractor.
The MJL electrical workers were left jobless after the private company was closed, following allegations that the workers were not paid by the company. According to a university statement the MJL workers were subsequently paid by Wits out of the monies owed to MJL Electrical.

The university previously made a statement where it acknowledged that the MJL workers were treated unfairly by the contractor.

“MJL workers have been treated badly by their boss. Wits does sympathize. But we cannot employ the workers,” the university said in an earlier statement.

According to the university spokesperson, Shirona Patel, Habib said during the protest that Wits could not absorb the MJL workers into the university.

The statement also added that Wits management would not meet with the student protestors, “Wits Management is open to meeting directly with the workers themselves or their recognised unions but the university will not negotiate with the Wits EFF, student groups or other informal bodies on this matter.”

However the protesters have reached an agreement with deputy vice-chancellor Prof Tawana Kupe, today and voluntarily left the premises just before lunch. This comes after the university began proceedings to obtain a court interdict to have the students from Wits Workers Solidarity Committee and MJL workers removed from the premises, which they have been occupying since Wednesday.

Koketso Toho, a protestor and member of Wits Workers Solidarity, said “We got the university to take responsibility to attend and negotiate with current vendors which enjoy the same status as MJL to employ the current number of workers.”

“They will try to communicate with us and we will take it from there what action we will take.”

In the university’s statement responding to the demand to employ the workers, it explained the negative affect insourcing, hiring the workers directly by Wits, would have on the university by setting a precedent, ” Those who advocate insourcing do not realize that it would require an extra 15% increase in student fees otherwise Wits quality will decline … This would destroy Wits. Where would future students go?”

Toho however believes the university will try to improve the number of outsourced vendors it uses, “We will try and negotiate for the general outsourcing to stop which the university has committed itself to try and stop … even though it might be a lengthy process.”

He added, “They [Wits University] will try to communicate with us and we will take it from there what action we will take.”

Wits seeks court order to remove protesters

Students and dismissed electrical workers have occupied the offices of the Wits vice chancellor, Professor Adam Habib, since yesterday, The university has indicated that it will be seeking a court interdict to have the protesters removed. 

LOCKED OUT: Two students were locked out of Professor Adam Habib's offices which protesters were occupying and demanding that the MJL electrical workers be absorbed into a newly outsourced company. Photo: Tanisha Heiberg

LOCKED OUT: Two students were locked out of Professor Adam Habib’s offices yesterday while protesters occupied the space demanding that the dismissed MJL electrical workers be absorbed into a new company now contracted by Wits. Photo: Tanisha Heiberg

Wits University says it will seek a court order to remove the protesters currently occupying the office of the vice chancellor, Professor Adam Habib. Around 20 protesters occupied the office on the 11th floor of Senate House on East Campus, around lunch time yesterday, and were given the option to move to another site by 6pm last night. After failing to move, the university declared it’s intention, via a tweet, to seek legal recourse.

The protesters, including members of Wits Workers’ Solidarity, and MJL electrical workers are apparently still in the office this morning which has been closed by Campus Control.

The protest comes after a protracted dispute with Wits management over the  fate of the electrical workers who were left jobless after the university ended its contract with their company, MJL Electrical. Last month, the group sent a letter to the vice chancellor blaming the university for not doing enough to help them. The workers have been in a salary dispute with the owner of the company, George Cresswold since early this year.

Yesterday, two students attempting to join the protest were locked out of the offices and staged their own sit-in in the lobby. A student and member of Wits Workers’ Solidarity, Mpho Massuku said, “They are not allowing us to come inside … Habib only allowed five people to go in and we are not part of them”.

Deputy Vice Chancellor (Advancement and Transformation), Professor Tawana Kupe and members of the Academic Freedom Committee were seen inside the offices.

Professor Beatrys Lacquet, the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Information, Knowledge and Infrastructure Management), said, “The university has to continue with business as usual and we are dealing with the matter in due process”.