MASERU — The government says there is no money to pay the 15 percent salary increase that striking National University of Lesotho (NUL) lecturers and researchers are demanding.
Education Minister ‘Mamphono Khaketla told parliament yesterday that the government cannot afford the Lesotho University Teachers and Researchers Union (Lutaru)’s wage demands because it is already grappling with the economic
“I wish to announce that the 15 percent salary increment demanded by members of Lutaru, which has since been downgraded to 9.5 percent, will not materialise,” Khaketla said.
“It should be known to all that government will not be able to realise that demand, especially when we take into consideration the recession the world is grappling with.”
Lutaru went on strike on October 7 demanding a 15 percent salary increase.
This is in addition to the 10 percent the lecturers and researchers got in December last year after another strike that crippled the university and forced the management to send students home.
The union also wants the management to narrow the gap between senior lecturers and associate professors, and improve working conditions.
But the management has maintained it cannot afford that salary increase because the university is already in the red.
The management says the university is saddled with a multimillion maloti budget deficit.
The M5 million budget deficit from the just-ended financial year is set to balloon to a staggering M50 million this year.
Any salary increase, the management says, will sink NUL further into debt.
So far efforts to end the strike have failed. Students have been sent home and staff members have been locked out.
Last month the striking lecturers and researchers were only paid for the two weeks they had worked after the university implemented the no-work-no-pay policy.
Khaketla said it would not be proper for Lutaru to get a 15 percent raise when the government gave a five percent increase to all civil servants this year.
“It would not make sense for government to suddenly somersault on its decision by granting the university staff the 15 percent they demand, regardless of the current financial situation,” Khaketla said.
“Government will not encourage strict austerity measures on Basotho due to the poor economical climate, only to bend to the university staff’s 15 percent salary increase demand.”
The minister said she has since instructed the NUL Council that the university should remain closed until December 31.
“My decision derives from section 4 (4) of the NUL (Amendment Act, 2002), which cites that the minister may give general or special directives to the council regarding administration and management of the university.”
“The law says the council shall comply with such directives and report compliance to the minister. While the students are at home, I wish to see the management and Lutaru find a resolution.”
The minister also said she hopes Limkokwing University of Creative Technology (LUCT), which has also closed due to a lecturers’ strike, will resolve its problems quickly.
“Limkokwing might be a private university but has been registered legally. It is its responsibility to offer quality education beneficial to Basotho children,” she said. “Government has interest in the school realising a high level of stability because its students are sponsored using funds from the public purse. Government expects students to finish their studies.”
Khaketla said LUCT management had informed her that the university would be closed until January and that students would be released “save for those in the final year as well as those who were doing their internships”.
“For these two groups, lessons continue as usual because not all lecturers are on strike. The downside though, is that the number of available lecturers does not cover all students.”
Like NUL, the LUCT has been rocked by strikes over the past two years. The LUCT’s corporate secretary Tefo Macheli said 32 lecturers who had not joined the strike are taking the classes.
Macheli said in the meantime negotiations between the management and striking teachers were continuing.
LUCT academic staff union spokesperson, Malefetsane Nchaka however said the management had declined to meet them when they reached out to them.
“We have never had a meeting with the management since the strike began two weeks ago.
“We have made initiatives but they kept on postponing. The first meeting will be on Friday (tomorrow) if at all it will materialise,” Nchaka said.
Khaketla told parliament that she instructed the National Manpower Development Secretariat (NMDS) to suspend student allowances.
“NMDS will only resume student allowances when the schools re-open. You will all recall that the agreement between the NMDS and students spans 10 months of the academic year, not 12 of the calendar year,” Khaketla said.