UG unions still insisting 2017 pay hike is interim

-Haynes points to ongoing infrastructure woes, criticises VC’s `high-handed’ style

Though they have accepted pay hikes of 8% and 6%, retroactive to January 1, 2017 the unions representing the University of Guyana (UG), are still dissatisfied with this offer by the administration, and believe that the amounts could have been higher.

They have taken particular issue with what they said is the mystery surrounding the manner in which the $182 million used to pay increases was disbursed, and have renewed their calls for full disclosure.

Following negotiations with the unions, the UG administration in October, announced its final pay hike offer of 8% and 6% to its UB (support) and UA (academic) staff members respectively.

In a press release subsequently issued by UG’s Public Relations Division, Vice-Chancellor (VC) Professor Ivelaw Griffith had said that he was ready to sign the agreement and begin payments which could have been made with that month’s salary.

However, the two unions—the University of Guyana Senior Staff Association (UGSSA) and the University of Guyana Workers’ Union (UGWU) have expressed their dissatisfaction.

Bruce Haynes

In an interview with this newspaper, head of the UGWU, Bruce Haynes, under whose portfolio the UB staff falls, remains adamant that higher sums could have been granted, emphasizing that “the unions are still unclear as to what the true financial picture is.”

Haynes explained to the Sunday Stabroek, that the increases were accepted, as it was not the desire of the unions to be at an  impasse, but pointed out in the same vein, that what was granted is being regarded as an interim figure, until workers are given more, which they deserve.

He said that the unions proposed to the administration, the formula, where the least paid, would receive the greater increase and vice versa; but this was ignored.

Speaking on behalf of both unions, Haynes noted, that also shrouded in secrecy, were the names of a number of persons who were employed by the VC, and to whom increases were also likely paid.

He theorized, that from the $182M, UB staff could have been paid at least an increase of 10% and UA staff; 12%. He asserted that while the amounts granted are considered as being final from the VC’s perspective, it is not the case for the unions and would only be treated as interim.

Haynes described as unfair, the process under which the persons employed by Griffith were used, as they never met with the Appointment Committee nor were credentials presented, as university employment protocol dictates.

By keeping “all these processes secretive, we don’t know exactly what else we could have gotten,” the UGWU head said.

Efforts by Stabroek News to contact the VC for a comment proved futile.

The UG administration had previously said that it honoured all requests by the unions for financial and other information during the negotiation period, which began on July 12.

However, in a joint statement on October 3rd, the two unions were adamant that the administration had failed to honour all their requests for financial and other information.

The unions had previously argued that the administration refused to provide the breakdown of the $182 million and they noted that at a meeting with its executives seeking answers, the VC indicated that the administration “had done enough” and “nothing further would be provided.”

The unions had said they needed answers, since during negotiations the sum announced to pay “all staff” a 6% increase was $181 million. They said that after querying what was meant by “all staff,” they were told it meant “everyone, including seven persons who are not on the pay scales.”

According to the unions, after they were subsequently made an adjusted offer of 8% to support staff and 6% to academic staff, they were informed of the total moving from $181 million to $182 million.

Meanwhile, still an area of concern for them, is the administration’s stance that wage hikes for academic staff be tied to their performance.

They have questioned what they say is the sudden re-introduction of the demand for staff performance being a part of negotiations.

“This university has lots of performance issues,” Griffith had noted, while saying it would be irresponsible of him to negotiate salaries and not speak of the performance of staff.

According to him, delinquent lecturers who do not submit their grades in timely manner should not be given a salary increase.

Describing Griffith’s handling of issues as a “high-handed”, “big stick approach” manner, Haynes said it was unfair for the VC to take a blanket approach, by punishing all lecturers, for the recalcitrance of a few.

Acknowledging that there are academic members of staff who sometimes submit grades late, Haynes said that there are systems to deal with errant lecturers.

He said too, that the workload which lecturers often have to carry, is overwhelming, and that there is no concerted effort by the VC in ascertaining what their challenges are, before he makes certain statements attacking their performance.

Haynes said that in some cases, there are issues surrounding the lack of resources for research to be conducted, coupled with the fact that lectures are not afforded the opportunity of visiting sister organisations, from which insight may be gleaned.

He reminded too, that the university is not equipped with smart classrooms, which all aid teaching in the 21st century.

He said that these are all issues which the unions have raised with the administration, but to no avail.

Infrastructural shortcomings

Commenting on other issues which need urgent attention but are being overlooked, Haynes cited infrastructural shortcomings such as a leaking section of the library, which houses the Caribbean Research library.

He said that the ceiling is bat-infested, from which a pungent odour emanates, noting that the room is not insulated and is unhealthy. Added to this he said, is the need for the provision of updated materials.

According to Haynes, when these issues are raised, the VC advances the excuse that funds are not available, yet he goes ahead with his agenda. ‘He is doing what he wants to do,” Haynes said.

Haynes explained that there is need for money to be expended on a priority basis.

Pointing to the recently commissioned School of Entrepreneurship and Business Innovation, the brainchild of the VC, Haynes said the project was not given the green light by the Council.

While noting that the advent of the school is a good idea, Haynes said that it was overambitious and not a priority at the moment, and that the resources expended therein, could have been used to address a more urgent need.

He said it was a quantum leap, which should have been thought out in more depth.

Haynes noted with great concern also, the inadequacy of washroom facilities, and the complaints of the cleaners who still use pointer brooms, about having back aches. He said that even in the face of occupational hazards, the janitors “must do the work,” noting that there is no institutional strengthening.

“These are the challenges we face, and for open dissent, you can be targeted,” Haynes de-clared.

Asked about possible solutions to these problems, the union leader said that there is need for the urgent installation of a new council, through whom the built in checks and balances can be enforced.

He said that strong members are also needed, who would not be afraid to “read the riot act to the VC.”

He said that on the last council, the life of which ended in July, there were a few such members, highlighting that some have been targeted.

Haynes said also, that there is urgent need for a collective labour agreement mechanism at the university, without which staff would be exploited.

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