Labour ministry offers to mediate UG crisis if workers end strike

As the University of Guyana (UG) staff continued to strike after collapsed wage negotiations with the university administration, the Ministry of Labour has offered to play a mediatory role but only if workers end their industrial action.

In a letter on Wednesday to the University of Guyana Workers’ Union (UGWU), Chief Labour Officer Charles Ogle indicated the ministry’s willingness to participate in a conciliatory role, although he noted “apparent lapses on the part of the unions” in their adherence to recognised industrial relations practices by proceeding with industrial action before seeking the ministry’s intervention to resolve the impasse with the UG administration.

On the other hand, Ogle said the UG administration is adamant that full resumption must be in place before any meeting could be held with the unions and, according to the letter, the administration’s stance adheres to the industrial relations practices.

As a result, he said once full resumption took place by yesterday, the ministry would ensure that there was no victimisation of the workers. He also promised to undertake conflict resolution if further negotiations fail.

“It is against this background and these assurances that we only hope that the current industrial action be brought to an immediate end so as to allow the process of negotiation to commence in a situation of normalcy at the university and without duress,” Ogle wrote.

However, University of Guyana Senior Society Association (UGSSA) President Dr Mellissa Ifill told Stabroek News that Ogle’s letter was simply being used to justify comments made by Labour Minister Nanda Gopaul that there was little the ministry could do to resolve UG’s conflicts.

“It seems to us as if the CLO [Ogle] is essentially using arguments or making statements to justify what was said by his minister. We have no difficulty with that; he has to understand his role and know where his source of income is coming from and make a judgment,” Ifill said. She continued, “By law, as we understand it, the role of the Ministry of Labour is to intervene in such disputes. And if one party is saying we have no confidence, the students are being affected, the entire university structure is entirely disrupted and the Ministry of Labour does not feel that it could or should intervene then…,” she trailed off with a shrug.


Ghost town


Meanwhile, the Turkeyen campus was practically a ghost town when Stabroek News paid a visit yesterday morning. Though some students were seen hanging around, playing cricket or having conversations, no classes were seen being conducted. Only a handful of lecturers were seen at the time of this newspaper’s visit.

On Tuesday, Vice Chancellor Jacob Opadeyi said that 76 courses were scheduled to resume. Reports reaching this newspaper indicated that some courses have indeed resumed on the campus.

However, Ifill said very few lecturers have actually resumed their posts. “Just about 10% or less of classes are being taught,” she said. She explained that Opadeyi had submitted a list of courses which were to resume but she said that upon closer inspection she realised that many of the courses were on the masters’ level and two online courses. All other departments, she said, were “virtually shut down.”

“The Vice Chancellor is trying to suggest as though the university is getting back to normal but in fact it is not,” she said. She added, “Lecturers are digging in their heels, other staff members are digging in their heels… we cannot return to work.”

At the time of the interview, Ifill had been engaging in protest action outside of UG’s main gate along with several other lecturers and students. She maintained that the strike action will continue indefinitely. “We have no timetable to cease; we will be out here–out of classes, out of the workplace–until we get an offer that we find is reasonable and just,” she said.

She explained the protests usually commence at about 8AM and conclude just before midday. She further said the protests presented the opportunity to rally their forces and show their unwavering support to the cause. “Our reason for coming out, largely, is so that we can encourage each other and so that those who are working can pass us, look at us, say good morning and go into work. We would like to see those who are working and we would like them to see us,” she emphasised. She continued, “We would like them to see that we are the ones fighting for their rights because any increase that is secured will be applicable to all of us. So, though they are not fighting for their own rights, we are fighting for them and we want them to see us fighting for their rights.”

The industrial action commenced just over three weeks ago following the collapse of wage negotiations between the administration and its staff. During the strikes, the unions maintained their demand for a 60% increase across the board along with the rescinding of a workload allocation policy being foisted upon them by Opadeyi.

In response, the administration offered a 5% increase in 2015. However, this offer was refused and the administration in turn refused to negotiate with the unions until normalcy prevailed.

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