UG staff agree to one week of industrial action

–to protest late payment of salaries

University of Guyana (UG) staffers are to begin a week-long series of picketing actions beginning on Monday to protest the tardy payment of their salaries and the non-payment of insurance and tax contributions, among other things.

However, industrial action started on Thursday after staffers learned that they would not be receiving their salaries on that day, as is the norm. President of the University of Senior Staff Association (UGSSA) Patsy Francis stated that around 14:00 hrs on Thursday, correspondence was circulated to staff members informing them that they would not be receiving their salaries on time.

University of Senior Staff Association (UGSSA) President Patsy Francis (left), UGSSA Vice-President Melissa Ifill (centre) and President of the University of Guyana Workers Union (UGWU) Bruce Haynes (right) address members of the union during yesterday’s meeting.
University of Senior Staff Association (UGSSA) President Patsy Francis (left), UGSSA Vice-President Melissa Ifill (centre) and President of the University of Guyana Workers Union (UGWU) Bruce Haynes (right) address members of the union during yesterday’s meeting.

This is the second month in a row that UG staff have not been paid on time, despite promises that such a scenario would not be repeated. Last month, staffers were paid almost a week late because their salary preparations did not begin in time.

UG Vice-Chancellor Jacob Opadeyi had explained that the “someone on the government’s side” forgot that UG staffers were paid on the third Thursday of every month, as opposed to the same date as all other public servants. As a result, payment preparations needed to commence much earlier than they did.

Melissa Ifill, UGSSA’s Vice-President, on Thursday informed Stabroek News that the circular stated that the university had received insufficient funds and could not pay salaries on the official pay-day.

Stabroek News understands that the university had received a ‘Master Cheque,’ to facilitate the payment of staff, but it was short $14 million. As a result, as opposed to paying just some of the staffers, a decision was taken to withhold payment until everyone could be paid at simultaneously. In the circular, staff members were assured that all necessary measures were being put in place to have payments ready by next Tuesday.

This sparked a spontaneous picket action around the campus on Thursday and a decision for a sit in by some staff members.

Ifill said that though the picket was on such short notice she was pleased with the turnout. She added that persons who she had never seen on previous demonstrations turned out to support the cause.

The university, though, has managed to make the payments two working days before the Tuesday deadline they gave themselves. Opadeyi, who recently lamented having to run behind money to pay staff every month, yesterday informed Stabroek News that he had made a request for additional sums of money so that the university could make salary payments to its entire staff which were to be made by 15:30 hrs yesterday.

The Vice Chancellor said the university initially received $80 million to cover costs, and an additional $50 million or so was received as a result of requests.

He explained that the insufficient funds were sent as a result of the misperception that the university’s income and expenditure are fixed. Opadeyi said extra finances are sometimes required, particularly in the month of June to facilitate the payment of part-time staff, who, according to Ifill, have not been paid since February.

He also said that payments have to be made to persons who are about to go on leave as well as to those who qualify for gratuity.

The union leaders, however, are still not impressed and a meeting was called for members to collectively decide on a way forward.

During the meeting, Ifill lamented the tardy payment of salaries and the non-payment of their contributions. She said that many persons’ credit union, NIS, insurance and other contributions are not being made despite the fact that the deductions are made every month.

The non-payment of these contributions means that staff members would be unable to make claims if ever they have a need to do so.

Ifill said this was unacceptable and should not be allowed to continue.

As such it was suggested that UG staffers commence a week-long series of picketing actions commencing next week. This suggestion was welcomed by union members who seemed all too eager to make public their dissatisfaction at the sustained unfavorable financial conditions. As such, though they will be fulfilling their contractual obligations staff members will picket the university every day in the coming week.

Ifill also implored staff members to do only that which is stated in their terms of reference since going above and beyond the call of duty, as many of them do, is not appreciated.

She said the university’s administration has until next Friday to say how it intends to address the issues that have been raised and failure to do this will lead to a re-evaluation of the union’s position to decide on the way forward.  The way forward she said might very well involve taking their picketing exercises to off-campus locations.

Ifill also said that the unions will be bringing legal action against the university for the non-payment of their contributions. She said it is not right that deductions are being made from salaries every month yet they cannot benefit from these payments since they are not being paid.

One staff member shared that the UG Credit Union now refuses to give loans to university staff since the funds are given on a basis of trust and it does not trust the university to make the payment.

Ifill also said that that the union will be engaging a parliamentary counsel to create a bi-partisan approach to moving the university forward. She said that an oral presentation was made in February of this year and is to be followed by a written presentation which is to be prepared by legal representatives.

Ifill charged staff members to remain committed to the actions to be taken by the union in the coming months. She noted the fact that many persons who attended the picket on Thursday were absent from yesterday’s meeting, presumably following the news that they were to receive payment tomorrow.

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