Pro-Chancellor of the University of Guyana (UG) Dr Prem Misir has called on the University of Guyana Senior Staff Association (UGSSA) and the University of Guyana Workers Union (UGWU) to re-consider their current industrial action since there is no evidence that they are recognized bargaining unions for workers under Part III of the Trade Union Recognition Act 1997.
In a letter published in yesterday’s edition of Sunday Stabroek Dr Misir also said that there is no current trade union collective bargaining agreement with the University of Guyana.
“In light of the above information from the Ministry of Labour, it would be advisable that the unions reconsider their plans for continued stoppages of work,” Dr Misir wrote, also stating that breaching the terms of the contract such as engaging in “sit-ins,” etc, may have implications for employee remuneration.
“Workers have the right to participate in industrial action, but such engagement may result in a violation of the terms of their contractual conditions of employment,” he wrote.
Contacted yesterday President of the UGSSA Dr Patsy Francis said that her union along with the UGWU and the university’s student society will have a “strong response” to Dr Misir’s assertions. Calling the letter a “red herring” Dr Francis said the unions and the student society do not wish to become embroiled in a public confrontation with Dr Misir. She said their focus is to arrest UG from further deterioration and move it forward for the benefit of the country. She said that university is now ranked in the world just above that of a high school, and these are the issues they wish to address and not be side-tracked.
Meanwhile, trade unionist Lincoln Lewis in response to Misir’s letter pointed out that the determination of breach of contract is not within the purview of the employer but rather that of the adjudicator, who in the industrial relations setting will be an arbitrator, either agreed to by the employer and the union, or imposed by the Minister of Labour.
Secondly, Lewis, in a letter published in today’s Stabroek News, said that as far as the UGSSA and UGWU being recognized as bargaining agents at UG is concerned, it is the Trade Union Recognition Board (TURB) that is vested with the authority to pronounce on this. He said that currently TURB has written all the unions in the country asking that they provide their Certificate of Recognition, since while in the past the Board has issued certificates, at present it does not have copies of them.
“What is of import here is that UGSSA and UGWU have been continuously engaged by the university as the bargaining agents for the workers, and there is a union dues check-off system that is administered by both unions and the university.
“For Dr Misir to therefore raise the question of the legal relationship constitutes union busting and denying workers their fundamental rights,” Lewis wrote.
He also made reference to Article 147 (2) of the Guyana Constitution which states: “except with his or her own consent no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his or her freedom to strike.”
According to Dr Misir the Trade Union Recognition Act 1997, Section 2 (i) stipulates that, inter alia, a “strike” refers to stoppage of work, refusal to work, remaining at work, and comprises any concerted disruption of work or slowing down by workers referred to as a “sit down strike” or a “go slow.” He said the Act indicates that employees on strike and/or other forms of industrial unrest are not fulfilling the terms of their contracts of employment.
In response Lewis said Misir’s reference to the Act is “deception and must be condemned” given that UG recognizes the existence of industrial action and that this is indicated by the unions and accepted by the university, and secondly because there is an engagement on the part of Misir with the unions and an attempt to find resolution to the impasse.
Last week UG lecturers commenced a one-week sit-in which took place in conjunction with steady protests over the administration of the institution. The decision was taken by the ‘Operation Rescue UG’ group which was formed following the sacking by the UG Council of lecturer Freddie Kissoon and others. The group wants Kissoon to be re-instated and also the conditions of the Turkyen campus improved. Members from the two unions and the student society are spearheading the group.