The rejection by the University of Guyana Senior Staff Association (UGSSA) and the University of Guyana Workers Union (UGWU) of unilaterally imposed salary increases by the University’s Administration will be referred to the General Council, President of the UGSSA Jewel Thomas announced last Friday.
Thomas said the two unions wrote to UG Pro-Chancellor Major General (Ret’d) Joe Singh about the way in which the recently announced increases were arrived at. “…He responded to us to indicate that the matter will go to General Council,” Thomas explained.
She noted that they have since received correspondence about the General Council meeting.
The University of Guyana Administra-tion has since maintained that the increases are all that it can currently afford.
Last week, UG announced by way of a statement that its Finance and General Purposes Committee (F&GPC) unanimously approved the request by Vice-Chancellor Ivelaw Griffith for salary increases at the rate of 3% for all eligible academic staff and 4% for all eligible support staff, retroactive to January 1st, 2018.
“[A]lthough the 2018 negotiations with the unions never moved beyond differences over the agenda, I felt obliged to act on what we had planned all along to do; that is, to offer a salary increase for 2018,” Griffith said. He added, “The Administration maintains the principled position that performance will be a factor in this exercise, and that no academic staff with outstanding grades will be granted the increase.”
The unions subsequently released a joint statement condemning and rejecting the move by the university’s administration and Thomas on Friday emphasised that it is completely contrary to the principles of labour relations to impose an increase where trade unions exist and negotiations are possible.
She said the percentages named are an insult to staff and to the unions since they have been trying to negotiate salary increases since the beginning of the year, with the first meeting being held on February 28th.
When asked what would be an acceptable increase, Thomas said that such a determination could only be made through a negotiating process. She said that they would usually be provided with information on the financial strength of the university and they would use that to guide their proposal for increases. However, that information has not been provided this year.
“If we had gone into proper negotiation, we would’ve made the decision where to begin from. In this instance, we asked the administration for financial information because we have been quite concerned about UG’s financial position,” she said, while adding that they are yet to receive the information.
She explained that they would have gone into discussions with the Administration with a lot of questions but have not had any of them answered. However, she said that their first step is requesting that the unilateral decision to have wages increased be rescinded and that negotiations continue with the Administration.
“We wish to negotiate the following items: salaries for 2018, travelling allowances, book allowances, the medical scheme, gratuity for persons not on the pension scheme and the pension scheme for [support] staff. These are priorities for staff and we believe that they are relatively straightforward to discuss,” she said.
She noted that while they made their interests clear, the University Administration indicated that it wanted to discuss its own items, such as a workload policy, performance management system, reconfiguration of leave entitlement, annual leave entitlement for academic staff, reconfiguration of sabbatical leave and the MoU for UGSSA and UGWU.
“We both had six items and their items, from one to five, everything I have named under the administration list except for the MoU, we said we are not prepared to negotiate those. Our position was that the University’s Personnel Division should’ve been transformed into a Human Resources [HR] Department and the Finance and General Purpose Committee of Council had their plan for this transformation since 2016 and we were told early in 2017 that the plan should be implemented by this year. One of the first items that had to be done was the hiring of an HR director. We still do not have one,” she added.
Thomas emphasised that their “bottom line” position is that the approved increases are not enough considering that workers still have to go into their own pockets to keep the university running.
“The Administration has to provide the resources needed to keep the university running and staff should stop the practice of subsidising the university. This year, the practice still continues despite more money coming to the university and you can see the money being spent but staff are still paying for essentials, such as papers and other office supplies while there are leaking roofs that can’t be fixed. The fact that we have to spend our money to keep this university running is part of the reason why we will not accept three and four percent,” she said.
“We don’t feel anyway responsible for our financial situation and staff should not suffer for whatever happened with the university’s spending… You cannot come and tell us there’s no money because we don’t spend it. It hasn’t been spent on the things that will help make our working conditions better,” Thomas added.
Head of the UGWU Bruce Haynes also made brief remarks and spoke about the deplorable conditions of some parts of the university, which said are being ignored.
Meanwhile, the University Administration on Friday emphasised that the decision of the F&GPC to approve salary increases was unanimous and that Haynes participated at the November 14th, 2018 meeting.
“The salary adjustment proposed by the UG Administration, and which was approved unanimously by the F&GPC, was made in the context of what is affordable, mindful of the necessity to balance the 2018 budget. The stated salary increases were made without prejudice to any subsequent negotiation, which means that they can possibly be adjusted once the negotiations get underway,” it said, while noting that its “doors are always open” for discussions with the unions.
In giving a background to the approval of the increases, the Administration explained that having commenced a process on February 28th to arrive at a mutually acceptable agenda for the negotiations between the parties, the unions advised on May 1st that they were desirous of having negotiations relating to salary increase and benefits for 2018 and that anything else would be discussed after agreement on those matters.
The Administration said it requested that the agenda for the negotiations also include the conclusion of a Collective Bargaining Agreement, because no Collective Bargaining Agreement was made since 1976. It added that it also insisted on the inclusion of the matter of performance. “Indeed, matters other than salaries were contemplated since 2017. The Letter of Understanding signed in November 2017 with the University of Guyana Senior Staff Association (UGSSA), which was one of two documents signed with that Union, the other being the Memorandum of Understanding, named a comprehensive job evaluation exercise and a Performance Management System as matters to be dealt with by both sides. A significant aspect of the Administration’s pursuit of the matter of performance relates to improving the service experience of students as regards the timely submission of scripts and grades,” it noted.
According to the Administration, the unions also proposed conditionalities in respect of the composition of the Administration’s negotiation team. It said the unions insisted on the exclusion of both the Personnel Officer and the Chief of Staff from the Administration’s team. “These conditionalities were rejected by the Administration. These officers were part of the 2017 negotiating team, over which there were no complaints. In addition, this demand represents a violation of a cardinal rule of negotiation: that each party determines the composition of its team,” it added.
The Administration said the unions next proceeded to seek the intervention of the Ministry with responsibility for Labour without formally informing the Administration of their intention to refer the impasse for conciliation. The Administration said while it was invited by the Ministry responsible for Labour to a conciliation meeting, it declined the invitation and indicated that there was no impasse as the negotiation did not move beyond differences over the Agenda. The Administration said it also noted that especially given the absence of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which would outline matters of dispute resolution, the step of conciliation must be agreed upon by the relevant parties.