The strike at the University of Guyana (UG) is over and classes will resume tomorrow at 7 am.
Following discussions between the University of Guyana Workers Union (UGWU) and the University of Guyana Senior Staff Association (UGSSA) with the Ministry of Labour terms of resumption were signed yesterday at the ministry.
Stabroek News viewed the document which requires the unions to call off all forms of industrial action as at 7am on Monday, February 27. The parties also agreed that there would be no victimization or harassment by either side; that the status quo ante should prevail; that there should be no break in service for those who participated in the recent industrial action; that the parties would resume discussions at the bilateral level on a monthly basis for the next three months and thereafter on a mutually agreed basis to discuss matters of interest; that the administration would convene a meeting between the unions and the negotiating team within one month of the submissions from the unions of their memorandum of demands for workers within their respective bargaining units; that the Ministry of Labour would conciliate in the matter should the parties fail to resolve their differences; and that the administration would work with the Ministries of Education and Finance to satisfy the applicable terms of the World Bank loan in a speedy manner.
In the matter of the termination of services of three lecturers including Frederick Kissoon in January 2012, the Ministry of Labour is to conciliate within one week upon full resumption of work.
Vice-President of the UGSSA, Dr Melissa Ifill, in addressing the media, said following their return to work, negotiations with the administration will be begin.
She noted that they had been fighting for conciliation regarding the termination of lecturers and this, which was the last issue to be agreed, was satisfactory to the unions.
“When we initially spoke to the issue, we wanted reinstatement of lecturers. We believe that the conciliation process will expose the flaws of judgment that resulted in that particular termination and we believe that ultimately, through that process, our position will be vindicated,” she stated.
With regard to students recovering lecture time which had been lost as a consequence of the industrial action, Ifill said that the issue would have to be discussed, but that lecturers would be involved in their own individual ways.
“For instance, like me, because my classes are small, I can have make-up periods for my students, but for the larger classes, we will probably have to set some different mechanisms in place,” she said, noting that the mandatory break period could be used for teaching.
She pointed out too that it was anticipated that students would have been reading during the hiatus in classes, since they had been given course outlines and other materials. Also, she noted that the possibility exists that the exam period might be extended.
Labour Minister, Dr Nanda Gopaul, at the signing of the document yesterday, said this agreement would pave the way for normalcy at UG and expressed confidence in the administration and unions to commit themselves to honouring the terms of resumption. He gave the assurance that his ministry would also play a role in ensuring that the terms were adhered to by all parties.
In addition, he exhorted all parties to engage in frequent discussions on issues whether or not they were minor. “Talk to each other,” he said, “even if the issue is believed to be something that shouldn’t be raised. This will avoid future industrial actions like this.“
The Minister promised to ensure that the labour laws were observed and workers’ rights were protected.
“At the university level, it is important that we have procedures which can be founded and which can avoid the cause for strikes and disruptions…” he noted, adding that he is certain given this most recent experience, both parties will work towards harmony and towards protecting the relationship which he said was important in moulding the nation.
He then acknowledged the presence of trade unionist, George Daniels, of the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) who he said would have been available to provide counselling if the matter had reached beyond this stage: “I would have asked him to speak to both parties because he is a very seasoned negotiator.”
Also at the table was Pro-Chancellor, Dr Prem Misir, who said that a level of camaraderie was reflected in the fact that they had reached a conciliation point.
“I particularly like the clause in the terms of resumption about meeting regularly… the more you meet, the more you can thrash out things; you can identify problems in the early stages… I really believe that withdrawal does not help. Withdrawal has always worked to the adversity of quality social interaction,” he stated in brief remarks.
President of the UGSSA, Dr Patsy Francis, said that the signing of the document is a step in the right direction and noted that the union had recommitted themselves to the development of the university and to Guyana.
“We trust that the administration and the council will assist us in giving voice to our creative abilities and put mechanisms in place that together with us, can reform or transform the university. We, the lecturers and students, are definitely unhappy with the state of the university… we want to see transformation and we will do everything on our part to ensure and to foster that transformation,” she noted.
Speaking on behalf of her colleagues, Francis said there is much talent among them and they only want to put that talent to work for the benefit of the university.
Also making an address was President of the UGWU, Bruce Haynes, who stated that it was recognized that there must be cooperation to achieve their demands.
The focus, he said, had not been on those of the lower level staff who were also important in the system. “They have aspirations too so we have to consider them… we know the focus has been on the students and the academic staff… but those who support also play an important part and so they need to be enhanced as well,” he said.
He went on to say that this enhancement could be achieved through welfare programmes and by placing training high on the agenda.
“If this relationship is going to work, there have to be very serious injections of finance. It doesn’t make sense we sit down and dialogue and we put programmes and things in place. There has to be the necessary support. Once that support is there, then we can all look forward to the transformation of the university,” he said.
Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Marlene Cox, while speaking on behalf of the administration, said that the university has had its challenges, none of which were new.
“I would like to think that each person at the university, be it staff or student, worker, would like to think that they are working in an environment in which they are comfortable and each one of us makes a contribution towards that,” she said.
Cox said she anticipated working with staff and students in a very respectful manner.