ROMA – Researchers and lecturers at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) on Monday went on an “indefinite” strike forcing the university management to postpone first-year final exams that were supposed to start on the same day.
The Lesotho University Teachers and Researchers Union (Lutaru) said they would not resume work until a resolution was found to their grievances.
The lecturers complained about poor working conditions and exploitation of teaching and research staff.
As a result of the strike, first year students failed to sit for their first semester final examinations.
The strike comes three weeks after NUL researchers and lecturers protested, through a petition, the university management’s decision to increase rentals for staff housed at the Roma campus and other properties in Maseru by 100 percent.
Lutaru accused the NUL management of imposing the rentals without consulting with them.
The union said the decision was unilateral and unfair, and appealed to the management to stop it.
They said the rentals were drastic as the university had not significantly improved salaries since 2005.
The lecturers also raised other grievances such as lack of equipment for teaching and research.
They claimed they have been forced to use their personal belongings like laptops and funds to access the internet because management had failed to provide the service.
The lecturers also claimed that they have had to buy their own overhead projectors after university authorities failed to buy them for them.
“The current dispute between the university and Lutaru revolves around poor working conditions and dire exploitation of the teaching and research staff,” said Lutaru in a press release.
“Lecturers and researchers lack basic equipment to carry out their duties and functions, i.e. to teach and research.
“Frequently, they have to resort to using their personal funds to buy anything from stationery to overhead projectors,” said the union.
The union said lecturers and research staff felt “exploited, marginalised and disheartened” over the ongoing problems at the NUL.
“We receive miserable wages that have declined in real terms over the last five years. The university has unilaterally abolished our employment benefits,” said the union.
Lutaru president, Ramohapi Shale, refused to reveal how much lecturers were earning per month.
Shale said the salaries were “embarrassing”.
Lutaru said the NUL management disregarded workers’ associations with the authorities “taking unilateral decisions left, right and centre”.
“Consultations with staff unions are only done as an afterthought. Under these conditions, the university cannot foster the aspirations that are embodied in its vision and mission statements,” the union said.
Shale said the strike was not meant to sabotage the students’ examinations.
“The strike was not meant to sabotage the exams. These are our students.
“We are the ones who set the tests and we would like to be with them to help and support them as they sit for their exams,” Shale said.
“We would like to assure the students, the parents, the nation, and all stakeholders that this action is not being taken lightly.”
He said they expected that the strike would be resolved amicably.
“We have followed all legal avenues open to us and have conducted ourselves in the utmost good faith throughout, and we sincerely hope that this dispute will be resolved amicably and on an urgent basis.”
Meanwhile, the management said in a press release issued on Tuesday that the university’s Senate will sit tomorrow to make a final decision on the first year examinations.
The university encouraged further negotiations between management and Lutaru to resolve the dispute.
“The university management is working tirelessly to engage with Lutaru and to interact with relevant stakeholders in Lesotho government in order to resolve this situation,” the management said.