Unisa shoots down employees request to work from home

The principal and vice-chancellor of the University of South Africa (Unisa) Prof Puleng LenkaBula has rejected calls by the academic union for staff to continue working from home, saying the varsity cannot have its employees at malls while students complain about service delivery.

LenkaBula said Unisa cannot allow a situation in which students vent their frustrations on social media “when the staff of the university can be found in every mall in the country”.

“We cannot be excited about the idea of working from home; running our businesses; not responding to students; and not doing the work.

“We are not going to reward that, and we will not be apologetic to demand of you to do the work that you are paid for because it is the ethical and right thing to do,” she said.

LenkaBula was speaking at the opening ceremony of the university’s academic year held at the university’s main campus in Muckleneuk and streamed live at all its six regional offices and satellite campus in Addis Ababa last Friday.

Bono Masakona, chairperson of the Academic Professional Staff Association (Apsa), one of the two unions recognised by the university, used the time
allocated to him in the programme to deal with labour disputes.

Masakona lambasted the university management for not renewing contracts of academic and administrative staff; stopping employees from working from home; and settling internal matters through the courts and other external bodies.

He said Apsa was at the forefront of the struggle of in-sourcing and of defending the rights of security and general workers.

“But things have changed in Unisa, even those with PhDs and support staff are told that their contracts are not going to be renewed,” he said at the gathering that included students, staff, ambassadors and high commissioners or their representatives.

Masakona said employees were more productive working at home than at the university, where they are bullied by line managers.

“VC [vice-chancellor], I don’t know which science you are preaching, but the science we know shows that when workers are at home, they work better.

“They dedicate more time to ensure that the university is productive.

“It is not about coming to this university and camping in our offices, it is about productivity,” Masakona said.

The union also criticised the university on how it dealt with disputes, saying it relied on the courts and bodies such as the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration.

“We are wasting money that the university does not have, but it also undermines the quality of the leadership to resolve the internal disputes of the university,” he said.

LenkaBula hit back in her opening address, saying the university has the highest number of students who are economically marginalised and require support.

She said not all students have resources such as data, so it was important to have staff in their offices to assist students.

“We are not going to be intimidated, neither afraid as the leadership to create opportunities for reskilling or upskilling and for ensuring that the technological and digital advancements are optimised … however, you must be present for students who come from the underside,” she said.

Unisa has about 400 000 students from around the country and continent. It is the largest university in Africa.

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