UG unions restate threat of action over workers’ benefits

After meeting again with University of Guyana Vice-Chancellor (VC) Jacob Opadeyi, the UGWU and UGSSA said yesterday that they will take both legal and industrial action if a clear plan to fulfill all obligations to workers is not outlined to them.

The University of Guyana Senior Staff Association (UGSSA) and the University of Guyana Workers Union (UGWU) said in a joint statement that Opadeyi, who was accompanied by several of the university’s senior administrators, still could not give an assurance that salaries would be paid on time beyond the month of July, and could not say whether employees’ gross salaries would be paid.

Part-time UG staffers have not received payment since the commencement of the year despite submitting claims forms, they also noted.

Jacob Opadeyi
Jacob Opadeyi

The unions, which acknowledged that there is little that the VC could do in terms of giving assurances on the university’s financial situation, said that he nevertheless pledged to continue to make representation to the Finance Minister Ashni Singh and Education Minister Priya Manickchand for the payment to the university’s staff.

Yesterday’s meeting is the second held in two weeks between the unions and the VC. After the meeting last week, the union leaders said they felt as though they came out the same way they went in—empty-handed. They had also said that the Vice Chancellor did not adequately address any of their concerns made.

“Clearly this is an untenable situation,” said the unions, which said they proposed to have monies to pay wages, salaries and contractual financial benefits to staff be deposited in a lump sum on an annual basis approved by Parliament. These monies, they said, would be controlled by the university’s administration so as to ensure timely payments to staff and “eliminate time wastage by senior UG officers who go on monthly pilgrimages to the Ministries of Education and Finance.”

The unions said that disclosures made by Opadeyi revealed that “the university is on the verge of collapse and the institution piles up further debt each month to the GRA, Credit Unions, NIS and the medical and pension schemes.” The statement said the unions have already taken steps towards bringing legal procedures against the university on these matters, and added that industrial action will also be taken if a clear plan with a time frame of how the university will meet these obligations is not outlined

In an effort to fix some of the university’s problems, the unions have recommended the implementation of some of some of the recommendations contained in the Trevor Hamilton Report. One particular recommendation had suggested that the university increase payment to its lecturers by as much as 300% so as to attract and retain qualified lecturers. The increase, the report also suggested, would serve to rally the morale of the lecturers.

As the unions continues to monitor the university’s situation, they have requested that Opadeyi meet with all of the university’s faculty and staff on a quarterly or yearly basis, and that he also honour the undertaking of the UG Administration in February 2012 to meet them on a monthly basis.

The unions also related concerns that Manickchand has not moved to appoint the University Council, which expired on June 30th. The unions noted that such disregard for the planning for the university would have several negative implications. For instance, they said, the UG Negotiating Team, which they requested that the VC set up to negotiate salaries and benefits with the unions, cannot be convened without two council members. Until the council is set up, they said, such negotiations are impossible, unless a decision is taken to extend the life of the existing council.

“Additionally, an Appointment Committee meeting scheduled for this week had to be canceled as it needs council members to be quorate. This means that new appointments and renewals and extensions of contracts are still to be completed. Meanwhile, the new academic year is scheduled to commence in just over a month,” the unions said. Despite the dire need to see the council set up, they are calling on the Education Minister to appoint persons who are “competent and who possess the necessary skill-sets to transform Guyana’s sole national University into an outstanding, creditable tertiary institution.”

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