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Unisa woes continue as allegations of mistreatment are sent to the Human Rights Commission

26 October 2022

The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has confirmed that it has received complaints against Unisa for alleged human rights violations that are said to be happening at this institution.

The Star was recently made to understand that, on top of a series of administrative problems, Unisa is also beset by allegations of human rights violations, which include the bullying of senior and junior staff by members of the executive.

In a letter addressed to the commission dated August 2, 2022, a staff member, who does not want their identity revealed for fear of reprisals, accuses acting head of legal services Dr Vuyo Peach of running the HR department like a court of law.

Speaking to The Star following an email and telephone enquiry, spokesperson for the commission, Wisani Baloyi, said the commission has recently received a letter of complaints from a group of concerned and suffering Unisa staffers.

"The commission can confirm receipt of the complaint. The commission can further indicate that it consulted with the employees this week. The commission is assessing the complaint and is awaiting further documentation on the matter," Baloyi said.

The letter, which The Star has seen, accuses the university’s management of bullying, victimisation, disregarding human rights as well as labour laws, and abuse of power by some members of staff, among many other issues. It is reported that staff morale at the university is in short supply due to these issues.

One affected employee said the university used to be the employer of choice, but things changed in 2021.

"Unisa used to be an employer who cares about the safety, health and livelihoods of workers, but since August 2021, Unisa can now be classified as Robben Island. Rights of workers have ceased to exist since September 2021 after workers demanded their salary adjustments," part of the letter to the commission reads.

It is further stated in the letter that employees are threatened daily with litigation and trumped-up charges when they try to raise issues such as freedom of expression and of speech, which it states are no longer tolerated by management. Threats of dismissal have also become common, while challenging one’s contract or employment status can easily end in dismissal.

"People are stressed and yet must assist students while receiving calls that their cars must be repossessed. Some are evicted where they are renting, and children no longer have school transport. It is said that this process will last for six months. Some of their spouses passed away and are unable to do the funeral arrangements as they are not having money," relayed the letter.

What is even more worrisome is that the letter alleges that cleaners are not paid and that fixed-term cleaners were transported by a security company, while Unisa’s permanently employed cleaners were not given that privilege.

"Unisa now operates like the courts where everything requires affidavits by managers and sworn statements and declarations. Powers vested in managers no longer exist or partially exist because the legal services office has become the alpha and omega, instead of providing legal opinions," the letter states.

All of these alleged violations are said to originate from the legal services department, which has recently been accused of authorising and presiding over the irregular appointment of legal advisers and consultants led by Peach. Peach is said to have overstepped his mark and ventured into the territory of human resources.

A source who said he knew about the letter to the commission told The Star that he was aware of some of the issues raised in the letter.

"Yes, the contents of that letter are true. There is a lot of confusion as to what is happening as the office of legal services continues to consistently overstep its boundaries. This has affected other service departments and their heads, leading to these departments being unable to function optimally. This has also caused tensions between managers and subordinates, as managers are now unable to oversee their own departments without interference or hindrance," the source said.

Unisa and Dr Peach did not return to The Star at the time of publishing.

Source: The Star

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The Human Rights Commission is the national institution established to support constitutional democracy. It is committed to promote respect for, observance of and protection of human rights for everyone without fear or favour.

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