Protest march set for tomorrow as UG strike continues

University of Guyana (UG) staff will continue another week of strike action, beginning with a protest march tomorrow, the UG Workers Union (UGWU) and UG Senior Staff Association (UGSSA) said in a joint statement yesterday.

The strike by university lecturers and other staff will continue indefinitely until a resolution is arrived at between the unions and the administration.

The unions have received police permission and will begin the protest march tomorrow from the university campus gates to downtown Georgetown. According to the statement, the march is intended to gain solidarity and bring about public awareness of the plight of lecturers and ancillary staff, as well as students at the university.

The protesters are expected to be assembled at the campus gates at 8.30 am. The route of the march is: north along Turkeyen Road from UG gate to the Railway Embankment Road, West along the Rail-way Embankment Road to Sheriff Street, South along Sheriff Street to Sandy Babb Street, West along Sandy Babb Street to Vlissingen Road, south along Vlissingen Road to Brickdam and finally west along Brickdam to Manget Place.

“We have and will continue to pursue all avenues to resolve this crisis,” the statement read, adding that workers will remain on full strike action next week, barring a resolution of the industrial dispute.

The statement said: “Our message to the university administration should be clear by now. We will not resume our normal duties unless a decent offer is made,” whilst adding that the unions have expressed willingness to entertain an interim proposal and a firm timetable to complete all negotiations to resume normal operations.

“We are however not prepared to return to work with only an empty promise as happened in 2012,” the statement said.

Of the 609 Turkeyen courses and the 128 Berbice campus courses to be taught, only about 80 plus are listed by the university as being taught (less than 12%), the statement noted, adding that several of the lecturers of some of the taught courses were contacted and the unions were advised that no actual classroom work is being done—that it was primarily practical work. Students are not turning up for classes in any event.

“We urge all lecturers who are teaching to reconsider and join (rejoin) us as I know you agree that the overall conditions at UG are atrocious and must be remedied,” the statement said.

Fundraising for UG staff

The statement noted that the unions were mobilizing resources to offer support to UG staff who are on strike as the “crisis appears headed for a long haul.

“We have already distributed over 110 food hampers to staff and will continue distribution on Tuesday,” the statement said, adding that an online Go Fund Me account was also established,

Staff members are asked to share the link and bank account details to all those in their email and social media networks, so that those who wish to support their cause can do so. The account number is 654-084-3 to Republic Bank Guyana Limited. The swift code is RBBGLGYGG.

“…A heartfelt thank you from the Unions’ executives to all those who have supported the industrial action and protests over the past three weeks. Together we have come this far, and if we continue to stick together, we will receive our due,” the statement said.

The union leaders have twice met Deputy Vice-Chancellors, Dr Ramlall and Dr Reynolds in the absence of the Vice Chancellor to negotiate a resolution. Both meetings, however, the statement said, bore no fruit as the university’s position had not changed. “We are still being asked to return before negotiations can commence with an outer limit of June 30 proposed for the conclusion of negotiations. We could only reject that proposal,” the statement read.

According to the statement, the unions also attended meetings called by the UG Student Society involving both the unions and the administration. The statement said the UGSS wants classes to resume without delay and is concerned because students are operating in an atmosphere of extreme uncertainty.

“Both parties apprised the students of their proposals for a return to UG’s version of normalcy (as the situation at UG can’t be described as normal).”

The statement noted that the UGSS made a proposal which staff found reasonable. It was for the complete closure of the university for one week, while both sides talked to each other and hopefully agreed terms of resumption.

The statement said the unions had also asked the Ministry of Labour to intervene and broker an agreement “but the bias of the [ministry], as demonstrated in the statement by the Minister, and the response to the unions by the Chief Labour Officer is made even clearer with the revelation that at least two letters sent to the unions by the Ministry and the Administration had been written jointly by the Ministry and the UG administration.”

The Guyana Trades Union Congress also honed in on this issue, highlighting its concern about Chief Labour Officer Charles Ogle’s letter to the UGWU and the UGSSA.

“This letter violates established principles in industrial relations. The Ministry of Labour has responsibility to protect and defend. It is the responsibility of this ministry to conciliate in industrial matters, regardless of the circumstances,” the union stated.

It stated that ministry’s letter to the unions before engaging them was a complete departure from time-honored principles. “It is absurd to write [to] the unions, giving advice, without listening to them. This act communicates the impression that the ministry is colluding with management rather than working for stable labour environment and good management/ workers relations”.

The statement added that the ministry’s claim to recommendations being made for conciliation is also a departure from how the system works. “In conciliation decisions are not made. The ministry in the exercise of its duty makes oral recommendations to bring the parties closer for them to find a common ground and resolve their differences,” the statement said.

It further stated that the ministry’s choice to write to the unions after they requested conciliation when it has not listened to them nor followed up on its responsibility to restore normalcy after countersigning the 2012 Terms of Resumption is “indicative that its officers have dropped the ball”.

According to the statement, the 2012 Agreement made and signed under the chairmanship of the Minister of Labour Nanda Gopaul, speaks to the parties (union and management) meeting weekly with a view of arriving at a collective labour agreement.

“GTUC calls on the Minister of Labour to do the decent thing and return to good industrial relations practices. As a former industrial relations practitioner the minister ought to be aware his ministry has made a blunder and were he part of either union he would not have countenanced the violations and disregard. The blunder cannot be corrected by digging in on doing the wrong things,” the statement said.

“The handling of this dispute presents the hallmarks of government wanting to crush the trade unions’ right to exist and workers/students solidarity,” the union said, adding that in this environment justice cannot be achieved through the singular act of protest unless supported by the entire trade union community and the political parties that claim identity with working class right and struggles.

“As such the APNU and AFC are called on to stand with the workers and students and make their solidarity known,” it added.

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