While the two University of Guyana unions yesterday continued to protest for the start of negotiations on workers’ salaries and benefits, Vice Chancellor Professor Ivelaw Griffith has maintained that he cannot act without a decision by the University Council.
“We want we money now, we can’t wait ’til May,” the protestors supporting the unions chanted during a protest at the Turkeyen Campus yesterday.
The University of Guyana Workers’ Union (UGWU) and the University of Guyana Senior Staff Association (UGSSA) who attracted more supporters on day two of a three-day protest, have been calling for Griffith and the university administration to engage in negotiations on salaries and benefits based upon what was catered for in the university’s allocation in the national budget.
While the protestors were silent on the first day, they decided to chant around the pond in front of the Vice Chancellery building yesterday.
A lecturer, who was among the protestors, said that he believes that their demands are simple and that they are only asking the Vice-Chancellor to meet with the unions to start negotiations on pay increases.
“He [Professor Griffith] has refused to do this and he claims that the university has no money in the budget, which we have discovered that there are. There is allocation in the national budget for $300 million to $400 million under wages and salary,” the lecturer said, while noting that they are just asking the Vice-Chancellor to sit with the unions, and discuss how the money should be allocated and if he has plans to use the money in other areas. “For the Vice-Chancellor to avoid the unions is very disrespectful and it goes against industrial practices and trying to find a good solution,” the protestor said.
Jewel Thomas, President of the UGSSA, told Stabroek News yesterday that up to the time of their first protest on Wednesday, they had received no word from the administration. “I have not received any direct communication just yet. When I mean direct communication I mean emails or phone calls but we are awaiting to see if anything will come,” Thomas said.
Thomas said the unions hope that there is a reply soon from the administration as they wish not to drag out the protest like the industrial action they had taken in 2015 against the then Vice-Chancellor Jacob Opadeyi and his team. “The 2015 experience was a bad one for the university in a sense that it affected and disrupted the university. We began with picketing, just like what we are doing now and because of the lack of response of the then administration, it ended up dragging on for six weeks and in so doing it disrupted the entire UG calendar,” she noted, while adding that they do not want a repeat.
Thomas said that if talks are held, protests will continue and in the coming week they will move to a different form of action and it will progress until their demands are met.
However, in a statement issued yesterday, the university’s administration said salaries will be part of the 2017 revised budget, which will be one of three critical items the Vice Chancellor will be placing on the agenda of the special UG Council meeting scheduled for next Thursday.
The statement noted that the revised budget was among the subjects of a campus consultation on March 15 and that UG’s Academic Board, the leaders of the unions and the leaders of the student society were all invited to the consultation but the union leaders chose to boycott it.
“The top issues for the unions always have involved salaries and benefits, and this administration is committed to increasing salaries,” the administration said, while noting that Griffith explained to the leaders of the unions on February 27, and to hundreds of staff at a Town Hall-style meeting at Turkeyen on March 20, that in the absence of a decision by the University Council, “it would be irresponsible of him to name a percentage salary increase, especially since one has to consider the source of the funds to pay the increase.”
In the statement, the university’s administration also noted that it has been meeting in good faith with the union executives for several months to end “the cycle of conflict and dysfunction” that has plagued the institution. It pointed out that when Griffith took office in June, 2016, he invited leaders from both the UGSSA and UGWU to meet on a regular basis. “He listened to concerns raised by staff and faculty and emphasised that one of his top priorities is to address the legitimate concerns of staff and students. It is, therefore, disappointing to see that the unions have resorted to industrial action while efforts are being made to resolve outstanding matters,” it said. “The University Administration is committed to improving the salaries and working conditions at the university and to enhancing the quality of staff performance to deliver quality educational services to our students,” it added.