Vice-Chancellor of the University of Guyana (UG), Professor Ivelaw Griffith, has denied the claims by two unions that UG is on the brink of a crisis, countering that the institution is currently financially solvent and willing to begin wage increase negotiations.
Griffith, however, in an interview with Stabroek News yesterday noted that discussions surrounding wage increases will only be facilitated if other areas of interest are also included on the agenda.
In terms of salary increases and wage negotiations, Griffith emphasised that he had made it clear that any discussions on salary increases have to be done in the context of performance, including the times at which grades are submitted as well as the staff’s overall performance.
“I sent a message to the unions this year that performance will also be part of any negotiations for salary… There are many things that have been left hanging in the union-management relations that need to be address[ed], for example there’s no collective bargaining agreement and we have to fix that gap. We have to look at a variety of things, not only salaries and so, in the context of that package that we are approaching the negotiations with. The discussions never begun because we insist that you have to talk about things other than salaries and the unions only want to focus on salaries,” Griffith explained, while stating that a demand only in relation to salary increases is not one they are prepared to act on.
He highlighted that last year during the salary negotiations, with the guidance of the University of Guyana Council, it was agreed that the discussions would only take place in the context of what is affordable, coupled with staff performance.
“…So we have been catering for the ability to give a salary increase and the question is how much it will be but I feel fairly comfortable that we will be able to offer something to all of our staff. I would’ve liked that to come out in the context of the negotiations but it never got started. The ball is in the unions’ court and we are open. You have issues, come and see me…any time they are ready, with a view to negotiate the package… We are saying we have to talk about several things and not just salary, it has to be a package,” he said, while adding that there are other issues that need to be ironed out between the unions and the university’s administration before they have a set protocol and systems to deal with similar issues in the future.
The University of Guyana Workers Union (UGWU) and the University of Guyana Senior Staff Association (UGSSA), had stated through a joint press release that the university’s administration has refused to engage them on key issues and that this has brought the institution to the brink of another crisis.
They said that they have been attempting to negotiate with the UG administration on a range of matters since February 2018 and that these negotiations have gone nowhere. Furthermore, the unions say they are deeply concerned about the state of the university’s finances and the administration’s violations of the institution’s statutes and procedures.
“The Unions have observed that the administration is failing to provide the University’s Council with clear and straightforward information about the state of the University’s finances. This perhaps explains their reluctance to engage in negotiations with the Unions about matters which involve money, since they would have to reveal the University’s true financial situation,” the release stated.
However, Griffith denied claims that the university is approaching another crisis and said that they are currently financially solvent.
“…That doesn’t mean we have all the money we need but some of the things we have been doing…we decided to delay hiring some people and people we should’ve hired for September, October and November—we pushed it off till January; some people who resigned we didn’t fill their positions; some of the purchases we’ve done, we looked to see how we can do it in bulk to save. So we’ve been managing the ways in which we can get through the year without a supplement from the government,” Griffith explained.
He emphasised that they take pride in the university acting first and foremost in the interest of its primary constituency – the students –but also knowing the importance of their second significant constituency – administrative and academic staff. As a result, every action that is taken by the university is with the view of enhancing the experiences of their constituencies, most importantly the students, in the context of addressing deficits, gaps and “things that were left both undone and not properly done over the last decades,” he emphasised.
“Which means that we are going to have to change, and change, as you know, makes people uncomfortable… I am saying we have to [put the interests] of the students front and centre and for the lecturers and administrative staff, I am going to hold you accountable for your performance so those students can be better served,” Griffith said, while noting that his declaration had upset a few union members.
“I have made no apologies for saying that and we have got to put our money where our mouth is if we love these students and we have to find a way to enhance the services we deliver to them,” he noted.
Griffith further explained that while every Vice-Chancellor in the last few decades has experienced budgetary challenges, the administration has not faltered on any of their obligations, including paying income taxes and making payments to the National Insurance Scheme. He also noted that they have no outstanding debts.
Griffith also stated that there has been a fair amount of communication between the unions and the university’s administration. He related that the last correspondence was sent at the end of August, when the unions were provided with data that was requested.
“We also suggested that a sub-committee be formed to deal with matters that will facilitate a smooth process of negotiation. The university and the unions even started to do discussions on pension schemes and we had that discussion ongoing for over three months and while this was going on the other negotiation was left hanging,” he added.
Griffith also noted that they have presented several issues to the unions which need to be addressed, including the workload policy and whether they are optimising their human resource capital.
He said that they also wanted to look at the entire system of performance management, not only for the faculties but across the entire university, along with reconfiguring leave entitlement, inclusive of both vacation and annual leave for all categories of staff at the university.
However, Griffith said that when this was put to the unions, they only
wanted to discuss salary increases and everything else would have to follow.
“We are here to serve the students and the staff, who are here to serve the students and we have a collective interest in civility and good order and my door is open for the conversations when they are ready but it is not appropriate for the use of misinformation and scaring as a way of forcing the hand of the university. This university is not in a crisis, is not in a pre-crisis, and do we have problems? Yes, absolutely. But you can see the dynamism when you come through the campus as compared to two months ago,” Griffith added, while noting that they have made a number of achievements since he took up his post as the Vice-Chancellor.
The unions, in their joint statement, had said that the university’s administration was attempting to bar the council from being privy to ways they have been violating the university’s statutes and procedures.
“…The University’s Annual Business Meeting was held on Thursday, 8th November and the Unions’ concerns were not allowed to be part of the agenda. The Unions’ previous attempt to have Council discuss them at an Extraordinary meeting on October 3rd was thwarted when the Vice Chancellor left to deal with an ‘emergency’ and asked that they not be discussed in his absence”, the joint statement by the union said.
They added that they have been trying to place these matters before Council since July 2, 2018 but that their request for space on the agenda of the council meeting held on July 27 was denied.
The university’s Chancellor, Professor E. Nigel Harris, when asked about this at the July 27 meeting, reportedly said that the other matters were more important than the concerns being voiced by the unions, according to the joint release from the UGWU and the UGSS.