After five weeks of industrial action, the University of Guyana (UG) administration yesterday signed agreements with the unions representing striking workers to pave the way for the resumption of classes from today.
The University of Guyana Senior Staff Association (UGSSA) and the University of Guyana Workers’ Union (UGWU) yesterday signed terms of resumption as well an agreement for an interim increase in wages with the university administration to end the strike. The industrial action by workers began at the start of the semester in January.
Responding to the announcement, University of Guyana Students’ Society President Joshua Griffith yesterday stated that students were elated and appreciative that all classes resume today. However, he said they were concerned about the impact of the industrial actions on the semester. “They have to figure out whether they will be extending the semester or doubling up,” he said.
Glenfield Dennison, a foreign student who led protests which saw the Turkeyen campus’s gate being barricaded, expressed happiness that their protest actions “bore fruit. As soon as we locked the gates they began negotiating, so we need to celebrate that classes have resumed.”
A press statement released by both unions announced that they were calling off all forms of industrial action and all striking workers are expected to resume duty today.
According to UGSSA President Dr Mellissa Ifill, the first agreement outlined the terms under which their members would return to work, while the second detailed a 10% interim salary increase, effective from January 1, 2015.
Ifill said the signing of the memorandums represents the end of a very drawn-out period of industrial unrest, which resulted in a virtual shutdown of the university. “We feel vindicated in the results of the action that we have taken. As we have maintained from the beginning, we were forced to first sit-in and then to strike as a result of a series of events,” she stated.
The collapse in negotiations between the UG administration and the unions over salary increases, the introduction of a workload policy without input of the academic community triggered the sit-in and subsequent strike by workers and the resulting shutdown of the Turkeyen campus in turn led to protests by students demanding the resumption of classes.
The unions had demanded that the UGSSA must be recognised by the University Council as the bargaining unit for academic and non-academic staff, and that the university must negotiate with a joint UGSSA-UGWU team. They also demanded that the workload policy document be withdrawn from the council and that consultations be held with the academic community. Further, negotiations should be held with the UGSSA before it is approved by the University Council.
She noted that the University Council had in January instructed its negotiating team to resume negotiations with the unions without “pre-conditions or undue delay.” She also stated that although the policy was not withdrawn, it was agreed that it would be considered for approval only after consultations were conducted.
“The VC’s office then outlined a timetable of consultations with faculties, academic board and the unions. This timetable must be rescheduled due to the cancellation of faculty boards and academic board meetings during the month of February,” Ifill said in the statement.
“These agreements underscore our standing as important stakeholders at the University of Guyana. The five weeks of industrial action were about more than money, benefits and improved working conditions for staff, though these were all extremely important matters that have been pending for over three years,” she said, adding that it was about “demanding respect for our work and sacrifice (not just manifested in monetary terms); resistance to dictatorial impositions from either the Council or the VC; insisting that tertiary education must be a national priority; and demanding better education for our students.”
The statement said negotiations between the parties are expected to begin within seven days.
“This is just the beginning of the process,” Ifill said, adding that they will honour “our obligations under the agreement, but we also expect that the administration will attempt to do the same in good faith.
“Rest assured that University of Guyana faculty and staff will ensure that we finish what we have started during the past five weeks.”
The improvement of the teaching and learning environment by having projectors installed in all large classroom, new or refurbished blackboards and whiteboards available in all classrooms and stationary supplies in place was part of the terms of resumption agreement signed yesterday. In addition, computers are expected to be supplied to the desks of all deans, directors, heads of departments, heads of sections and coordinators.