MASERU — The National University of Lesotho (NUL)’s plan to make up for the time lost when the university was closed due to a crippling
strike last October could be in disarray.
There are fears the troubled university could sink into further turmoil after teachers and researchers told the management they will not participate in the recovery plan unless they are paid wages they lost when the university was shutdown in October.
After members of the Lesotho University Teachers and Researchers’ Union (Lutaru) went on strike demanding a 15 percent salary increase the management closed the university and implemented the no-work-no-pay policy.
Because of that policy lecturers and researchers were not paid their salaries for October, November and December.
Classes resumed on January 3 with a plan to make up for the teaching time lost during the three-month closure.
The recovery plan says the first semester will end on February 17 while examinations will start 10 days later to give students time to prepare.
The second semester will start on March 15, according to the recovery plan.
The Sunday Express however understands that this plan might collapse unless the management accedes to Lutaru’s demand that its members be compensated for
the three months they went without pay.
In a letter sent to the management this week Lutaru said if its members are going to participate in the recovery plan they must be paid first.
The letter gives the management until this week to address this demand.
Ramohapi Shale, Lutaru’s president, confirmed yesterday that they had sent the letter to the management.
“Lutaru is only saying if (its) members are going to be part of the recovery plan then they must recover what they lost when the
no-work-no-pay policy was implemented,” Shale said.
He said if the management does not agree to that demand Lutaru members “will meet next week to
discuss the appropriate action to take”.
Asked if he thinks the management will agree to pay the lecturers Shale said he “believes they will because it is the right thing to do”.
But several sources told this paper that Lutaru’s demand is unlikely to find favour with the management or the government.
As the main funder of the university the government has already said it has no money.
It has already rejected Lutaru’s demands for a wage increase and a review to narrow the earnings gap between senior lecturers and associate professors.
There is now likelihood that the academic staff will resume their strike on March 31 after the
conciliatory process collapsed on December 28.
The conciliator appointed by the Ministry of Labour had several meetings between the management and Lutaru but the process collapsed after the warring parties failed to agree.
A source with intimate knowledge of the issue said at the initial meetings the management told Lutaru that there was no way the university was going to afford the 15 percent salary increase they were demanding.
“Management also made it clear that Lutaru’s demand that the university narrows the salary gap between senior lecturers and associate professor was a nonstarter,” said the source who has attended most of the meetings between management and Lutaru.
The source said in the subsequent meetings Lutaru demanded that the management should reverse the no-work-no-pay policy but this too was rejected.
Lutaru’s next suggestion that the management should pay their October, November and December salaries and spread the financial impact of the no-work-no-pay policy over months was also shot down.
The source said at one meeting there was a suggestion that since the university had about M30 million in investments it should offer Lutaru members a once off payment so the union can consider reducing its wage demand.
“When the management asked what the two percent was for they said it will be a bonus. But the management said a bonus is paid to people who would have excelled in their work throughout the year and the lecturers had not done that,” the source explained.
“The management considered that the two percent payment would cost the university M3 million and that would bring this year’s deficit to M53 million. There was no way the university could afford that”.
But Shale’s version of what happened at that meeting was totally different.
He said when this “once off payment” suggestion was made there was an indication that the management was not hostile to the idea.
“Since negotiations are a give and take process we were willing to consider that suggestion but there was no offer from the management,” Shale said.
“However our understanding is that the management was inclined to agree to that suggestion but it was blocked by the government together with the council chairman.
“It was the conciliator who took that suggestion to the government,” Shale added.
Dr ‘Molotsi Monyamane, the council chairman, could not be reached for a comment to respond to Shale’s allegation.
This paper however understands that Monyamane and the council rejected the proposal after consulting the government which said it did not have the money.
NUL has been grappling with a crippling financial crisis in recent years.
Currently, 86 percent of the grant it receives from the government goes towards salaries and other staff emoluments.
That leaves a paltry 14 percent for other operations.
The university ended its last financial year with a M5 million budget deficit that is now expected to
balloon to a colossal M50 million this year.
At the same time the university owes more than M10 million in taxes to the Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA).
NUL accumulated the arrears because it has not been paying tax on fringe benefits on medical aid, housing and other allowances for its staff.
The university pays two-thirds of monthly medical premiums for each of the more than 1 000 workers in its employ.
It also generously subsidises their housing. Workers who stay in its 65 houses at the campus in Roma and Maseru pay less than M1 500 per month while those who do not have institutional accommodation receive housing allowances.
For the past five years the university has not remitted tax on those benefits to the LRA.
The LRA is now demanding that tax with interest but the university cannot pay because it is broke.