University of T&T starts retrenching

(Trinidad Guardian) More than 30 members of the University of T&T’s (UTT) academic staff were given letters of termination on Friday, as the financially-plagued institution officially began a retrenchment exercise aimed at saving money.

Tears flowed and there was shock and dismay by the staff, as well as their colleagues, just after noon when the letters were handed out.

The letters, dated May 11, were signed by UTT Vice President Human Resources (Acting) Leah Ramgattie and the first batch went out to staffers from the Centre for Education Programme at the Corinth Campus and Point Lisas campuses.

It read: “As you are aware, UTT is undertaking a restructuring exercise. This has resulted in your services as Assistant Professor becoming surplus to the requirements of the university.

“You will not be required to report for duty during the period of notice. However, your salary and benefits will continue to be paid up to the end of the notice period.”

The letter issued served as a 45-day notice of the termination of their respective employment by reason of redundancy. In addition, the retrenched workers were expected to receive a severance payment based on the framework outlined in the Retrenchment and Severance Benefits Act. The employees were given one week from May 11 to collect their personal effects from their respective workspaces and until May 18 to return all university property in their possession.

“The university regrets having to take this course of action, which has become imperative due to the current financial circumstances,” Ramgattie added in the letter.

This is expected to be the first phase of an exercise which will see about 125 academic staffers from UTT’s faculties across T&T going home.

Speaking with the Sunday Guardian under condition anonymity, a UTT staffer maintained that no new approved structures had been given to anyone although the restructuring process had started. The staffer questioned whether the positions of the staff sent home were indeed redundant, noting that the courses being taught by them were still being offered.

Pointing out that one of the persons who received a letter is currently lecturing a course that ends after May 18, the staffer asked: “What happens to the course and the students after May 18? What criteria were used to select the academic staff who received termination letters?”

The Sunday Guardian understands that each head of the various academic programmes was asked to cut their staff by 25 per cent. Some allegedly refused, while others used the opportunity to apply their personal criteria to select the academic staff to be terminated.

“We want to know if the Minister of Education is aware and if he sanctioned this and why? Who is going to lecture these courses? How can you send home locals and hire foreigners? What is going on at UTT?” the UTT staff member said.

The first phase of retrenchment now has all staff members on edge.

“This is like a nightmare that we cannot wake up from. Our food is being taken from our tables. Our passion is being murdered. Our families will be made to suffer…so many unanswered questions. What will happen to us?” another staffer said.

An Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU) representative to the Sunday Guardian that, unfortunately, academic staff are not represented by the union.

“That is why the retrenchment have started with them,” the official, who did not want to be named, said.

But one of the retrenched workers said they would not go down without a fight.

“Some of us will be seeking redress at the Equal Opportunity Commission, the Industrial Court and/or through the High Court as civil matters.”

Efforts to contact both Education Minister Anthony Garcia and Minister in the Ministry Dr Lovell Francis were unsuccessful yesterday, as calls to their cellphones went unanswered.

In January, the Sunday Guardian reported that 287 members of staff, including academics, were to be retrenched. When this exercise is done it is expected to save the university approximately $41.5 million.

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