Three weeks after the commencement of industrial action by University of Guyana (UG) staff over stalemated salary talks with UG’s Vice-Chancellor Jacob Opadeyi, the decision was made to strike indefinitely until an acceptable offer is made.
According to the president of the University of Guyana Senior Staff Association (UGSSA) Dr. Mellissa Ifill, a decision was taken yesterday by both the UGSSA and the University of Guyana Workers’ Union (UGWU) to continue the strike action indefinitely until an acceptable offer is made.
Dr. Ifill added that the unions are prepared to entertain an interim proposal, one that workers will be willing to live with, while negotiating with the administration for their demands.
That decision comes after Opadeyi announced that lecturers for 76 courses committed to return to the classrooms from yesterday.
The unions are still awaiting a response from the Ministry of Labour’s Chief Labour Officer, Charles Ogle, who they wrote to on Monday February, 9, 2015, requesting the ministry’s intervention in the industrial unrest.
In the joint letter by the UGSSA and the UGWU, Ogle was referred to the Terms of Resumption agreement brokered by that ministry in February, 2012 and signed between the University of Guyana and the University’s unions, the UGSSA and the UGWU.
The letter noted that almost three years have passed since the signing of the agreement, but that UG workers have been “confronted with the UG administration breaching every item contained in the agreement.” Two of the items from the agreement mentioned were item six which states that the “Administration agrees to convene a meeting between the unions and the negotiating team within one month of submissions from the unions of their memorandum of demands from workers from within their respective bargaining units.” Also mentioned was item seven which states that “should the parties fail to resolve their differences, the Ministry of Labour will conciliate in the matter.”
“More specifically, the Unions submitted their memo of demands to the University in May 2012. No negotiation was called as agreed upon, a month later, the letter read. Moreover, according to the letter, the unions over the next two and a half years, were confronted with a lot of excuses and delays despite repeated requests for negotiation meetings.
Additionally, the Unions complained in the letter that over the period, they arrived at least on seven occasions at scheduled negotiation meetings which had to be cancelled because “the University’s negotiating team wasn’t quorate, while at most other scheduled negotiation meetings, nothing was achieved as the University made repeated requests for time to assess its financial status.”
According to the letter, the current crisis emanated out of a cancellation of a negotiation meeting, as well as an attempt to impose new working conditions on workers without negotiating same with the Unions and the de-recognition of the UGSSA by the Administration.
In the letter, Ogle was reminded that the UGSSA and the UGWU had notified the Ministry of Labour on January 27, 2015 of the industrial unrest at the University. The letter outlined details of attempts at resolving the unrest between January, 19, 2015 and January 27, 2015.
While noting that the industrial action continued between January, 27, 2015 and February, 4, 2015, the letter further mentioned that in an effort to resolve the crisis, a negotiation meeting was held between the Unions and the UG negotiating team on February 4, 2015. During that meeting the University placed a salary increase offer on the table which was rejected by staff as grossly inadequate.
Subsequently, the letter stated that the Unions submitted a counter offer to the University with the expectation that it would have been considered at the next negotiation meeting on February, 6, 2015. “The Unions, however, received a letter from the Administration, which withdrew the initial offer and stated its intention to not negotiate with the Unions unless there was a return to normalcy.”
Pointing out that the response from the Administration has led to a stalemate and the three-day strike from Monday February, 9, 2015 to Wednesday February 11, 2015, the letter stated, “There have been accusations of bad faith by both sides and trust has been broken down. The Unions are therefore seeking your intervention in brokering an agreement between the parties to resume normalcy at the University and arrive at a settlement that is fair to staff and faculty.”
Resume classes, fix issues
As the strike of academic and non-academic staff intensifies, some students have already returned to the classes of those lecturers who resumed teaching.
When Stabroek News visited the Turkeyen Campus yesterday, the unanimous call by students was for the full resumption of classes and for the fundamental issues to be fixed by the administration.
“We want classes to resume rather than have crash courses to catch up before the semester ends”, said a third-year student from the faculty of Education and Humanities. She added that so far since the semester started, she attended classes for one course of the six she has to complete.
A Technology first year student also stated that he wants classes to resume. When asked what he would like to see changed on campus, he said he would like to see the state of the washrooms improved and for the lecture theatres to have enough furniture to accommodate students. “We are paying an increase in tuition and still having furniture shortage… that is ridiculous”, he opined. Upon enquiry, that student said that since the semester started on January 26, 2015, he has had two classes and noted his frustration at the impact of the strike on students.
Meanwhile, an Economics second year student said that she, too, wants classes to return to normalcy. Inclusive of what she said she wanted to see at the University were better educational facilities, working projectors, microphones and fans. She also mentioned that her department has a shortage of lecturers. She said that lecturers most times end up teaching courses from different years simultaneously.
Meanwhile, the UGSS is in the process of creating a committee to mediate discussions between the Unions and the administration to resolve the current impasse between the two parties over wage negotiations.
The body according to its Assistant Secretary Jermaine Hunte, while pleased that the administration has begun to work on some of its basic demands, is concerned that the works might be a one-off thing and might not be sustained.