UG workers up the ante

– announce 3-day strike

University of Guyana (UG) lecturers and staff upped the ante on the administration yesterday by announcing that they would be on a three-day strike commencing on Monday.

Threats by the administration that salaries would not be paid to lecturers involved in the ongoing industrial action proved futile while the dispute yesterday claimed this year’s Open/Career Day, which has been cancelled. The event was scheduled for March 2.

Stabroek News was yesterday told that in light of the prolonged industrial action, affected university students may have to either contend with doubled up classes or an extended the semester. A decision would be made on either option when the unions and administration agree to terms of resumption.

The University of Guyana Senior Staff Association (UGSSA), the University of Guyana Workers Union (UGWU) and the University of Guyana Student Society (UGSS) launched ‘Operation Rescue UG’ about five weeks ago to protest against the deplorable conditions at the Turkeyen campus and the termination of lecturers’ contracts, including that of Freddie Kissoon.

Melissa Ifill, Vice President of the UGSSA, told Stabroek News yesterday that while the academic staff began their strike yesterday, the non-academic group is expected to join as of Monday.

“The non-academic staff who went to work this morning and had to sign the time book are not on strike, but they are expected to start on Monday,” she said.

During the three-day period, Ifill said, the unions are hoping for some positive engagement with the administration so they can move forward in a favourable direction.

When asked about the number of lecturers who are expected to participate in the upcoming strike, she said she was uncertain as the support percentage had been varying over a period of time, which she blamed on communication shortcomings.

“If we are supposed to have a sit-in today and find that some of our supporters are teaching then that may be because no one had informed them or some circumstance of that sort… but we have not made such an assessment to date,” she indicated.

Ifill further stated that lecturers who are tied to external programmes are required to continue classes regardless, giving the law and medical programmes as examples.

She said the unions are looking forward to more solidarity among the lecturers as it was the intention to continue fighting for what “a just cause. If we win then everybody wins and everyone will benefit; benefit from better conditions at UG, better classrooms, better salaries…”
Ifill further stated that it was brought to her attention that some persons who have been involved in the industrial action were intimidated in some instances. “We are trying to protect persons as much as possible,” she said.

World Bank loan
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education is working to fulfil conditions of the World Bank’s loan to the University of Guyana and hopes to complete the main terms by Wednesday for forwarding to the Minister of Finance who will sign off on the crucial loan.

Minister of Education, Priya Manickchand, told this newspaper yesterday that they have set a deadline of Wednesday to finish “the major things.” One of the conditions of the loan is the setting up of a Steering Committee and the minister said they have identified the persons who will be sitting on this body. Among these are the Permanent Secretary of the ministry, the Vice-Chancellor of UG, a representative of the Private Sector Commission, a representative of an international university, a representative of civil society, and a representative of non-governmental organisations. She said the ministry has written to the organisations like the PSC, for them to identify their representatives.

In terms of the subsidiary agreement, she said that this is already in draft as is the operational manual. But she said they feel that the person who will oversee the project–the project coordinator–has to adopt these documents since this person will be the one to implement the project. Advertisements will soon go out for this position as well as the procurement specialist and the assistant accountant. By Wednesday, the minister said, “the main things will be done.” The World Bank also has to grant a no-objection. Following this, it is left to the Ministry of Finance to sign off on the loan.

When Stabroek News visited UG’s Public Relations Officer, Paulette Paul, she noted that the relevant persons to speak on the industrial action were unavailable, adding that they were at the time engaged in an appointments’ meeting.

“Open/Career day has been cancelled due to the strike action which would certainly affect preparation and have a crippling effect on the event,” she noted. This affair was initially planned for February 17 but was postponed to March 2. Paul indicated that it had been anticipated that the situation would have abated within this period.

In a press release, she further stated that at present, it is unclear when the unions and the administration would arrive at mutually agreed terms of resumption

Paul expressed appreciation on behalf of the organizing committee for the involvement of both the private and public sectors that had partnered with UG to host the open day.

“The committee deeply regrets the inconvenience caused and all organisations that have already paid for their tents will be given a full refund,” Paul said.

Also, she noted that the committee is aware that many schools have made arrangements to visit the campus for the event and invited them to contact the Public Relations Division on 222-5402 or email to conduct tours when the industrial action ends.

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