UG unions appeal to Department of Labour over wage talks

Professor Ivelaw Griffith

The University of Guyana (UG) unions have called on the Department of Labour to intervene in its wage dispute with the university’s administration, claiming that management is employing delay tactics to impose their increase on workers.

In a statement issued yesterday, the University of Guyana Workers Union (UGWU), together with the University of Guyana Senior Staff Association (UGSSA), indicated that workers have rejected the administration’s attempt to delay meeting with the bodies.

It was related that management is attempting to meet with the unions just a few days before the end of this semester, although they, via a memo, had told staff that the increases will be paid before the university closes on December 21, for this Christmas break.

This short window, they believe, will prevent them from negotiating the increases before they are paid out.

“Yesterday, Tuesday 4th December, the University’s Registrar, Dr Nigel Gravesande, who serves as Secretary to the University’s Council finally circulated a proposed date of Thursday, 20th December for the Council meeting to address the issue.  The matter had been referred to him by the University’s Pro Chancellor, Major General (retired) Joseph Singh since 19th November. This means that Council will not have an opportunity to deliberate the matter until the day before the University closes. The discussion would also take place at a point where most likely the increase would already have been paid out to staff,” the statement read.

“It is also noteworthy that the time proposed for the Council’s meeting is 09:30 hrs. It has proven difficult for many Council members in the past few months to attend morning meetings in view of their work commitments.  The Unions have serious doubts about whether the administration is actually attempting to secure the full participation of all Council members,” it further stated.

It was also related that the unions had cause yesterday to reject the university’s initial attempt to schedule the meeting for December 18, after Vice Chancellor Professor Ivelaw Griffith, responding to a request for clarification from the unions, stated that the administration had no time before then to meet.

“The University’s administration has made it clear through its actions that it is attempting to force staff into accepting the imposed increase. The Univer-sity’s staff reject this attempt, and call on the Department of Labour to intervene before the situation deteriorates further,” the unions asserted.

For months, the unions have been at loggerheads with UG’s management over wage negotiations for workers. On November 14, during an interview with Stabroek News, Griffith had stated that he was open to having discussions on the topic with the unions, however, he emphasized that any talks on salary increases will be done within the context of overall 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…” he had stated.

However, only two days later, the university announced that it had unilaterally made a decision concerning the payment of increases to staff.

It was previously reported that the university indicated that its Finance and General Purposes Committee had unanimously approved the request for salary increases at the rate of 3% for all eligible UA (academic) staff and 4% for all eligible UB (support) staff, retroactive to January 1st, 2018. It was stated that Griffith had indicated that these rates were all the university can afford at this time.

“[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 was quoted as saying in the statement. 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, in a statement of their own, had responded: “It is disingenuous for the Vice Chancellor to claim that he has been forced to ask for the unilateral increase because he could not get us to agree to discuss these matters. The administration has refused to negotiate wages and salaries with the Unions, going so far as to fail to attend a conciliation meeting requested by the Unions. This meeting was scheduled by the Department of Labour for 25th October 2018, and the Unions showed up, but the administration never did.”

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