MASERU — The government has ordered the National University of Lesotho (NUL) to pay lecturers and researchers for the three months they were on strike last year.
The order, issued to the NUL council in a letter dated October 3, effectively reverses the no-work-no-pay decision the university implemented against the striking academic staff.
It means the Lesotho University Teachers and Researchers Union (Lutaru) has won the bitter battle it has fought with the management since January.
The Sunday Express has seen the letter the Minister of Education and Training, ’Makabelo Mosothoane, wrote ordering the council to instruct the management to pay the union members.
Mosothoane said the “government is concerned that any further delay in resolving this issue (no-work-no-pay dispute) and of adjustment of salaries amongst others, will continue to adversely affect the operations of the university”.
“It is in view of the foregoing that Council is directed, without having to decide whether the university or Lutaru is right or wrong, to order the university management to pay salaries withheld for the period in dispute with a view to amicably settle the dispute,” Mosothoane said.
“Council is further directed to reverse the decision taken by the university that, during the period of lock-out staff members would be regarded to be on leave as that decision prejudicially affected mostly those employees who were not on strike.”
The minister also told the council that the government is willing to assist the university if it needs money to pay the salaries.
“I wish to inform the council that government is prepared to provide financial assistance to the university, should it be required, in order to settle the dispute,” she said.
She however warned that her directive should not be read to mean she is taking sides with either the management or the union.
“I wish to reiterate that this directive is not made because I am of the view that either the university or Lutaru is right or wrong in the positions held”.
“All I want is for the university to start functioning normally.”
The minister’s letter also indicates that the government had to make the directive as the dispute between the management and the union was unlikely to be resolved any time soon.
“The dispute has gone on for a very long time on the issues which the parties feel very passionate about, and there is a very real possibility that if is not sorted sooner, the already fragile relations between the parties may be damaged and this is likely to have adverse consequences to all who are affected,” the minister said added.
The order to reverse the no-work-no-pay decision was made a day before the council was scheduled to meet.
A council member told this paper that although some members were worried about the implications of the order the council decided to comply.
“The council had no option because this is an order,” he said.
The official however said the university “is certainly going to ask for money from government because its coffers are empty”.
Lutaru president Motselisi Mokhethi said she was not aware of the government’s directive to pay the union members.
“I have only heard that there is such a letter but I have not seen it,” Mokhethi said.
She said the management had called Lutaru for a meeting tomorrow.
“I suppose that is the issue they want to discuss. I will only comment after that meeting,” she said.
Lutaru members went on strike in October last year to press for a 25 percent salary increase and better working conditions.
The union also wanted the management to narrow the salary gap between senior lecturers and associate professors, and sign the recognition agreement with the union.
When negotiations collapsed the management closed the university for three months and withheld salaries.
When the university re-opened in January lecturers and researchers demanded that the no-work-no-pay decision be rescinded.
The union said its members were on strike for only seven days and the management had closed the university when they sought to suspend the strike.
The management said it was entitled to close the university and withhold salaries because the union had only suspended the strike instead of ending it.
Later the union members argued that they deserved to be paid because they had made up for the time lost during the strike.
The management responded by saying a reversal of the no-work-no-pay decision would be illegal because the union members had not worked during those three months.
An arbitrator appointed by the government to resolve the dispute said the parties had failed to agree.
The union also rejected two offers from the management.
The result was a deadlock that dragged on until the government intervened on October 3.
The government’s directive goes against a legal opinion that the management sought on the matter.
The legal opinion said the management should not pay the lecturers for the period they did not work.
It said the courts ruled that “an employee’s duty to tender services is a corollary of the employer’s duty to remunerate him, the maxim being ‘no work, no pay’, from which it follows that an employee may legitimately refuse to work if he has not been paid”.
The lawyers said reversing the decision will set a “bad precedence for future situations of more or less similar nature”.