The University of Guyana Workers’ Union (UGWU) and the University of Guy-ana Senior Staff Associa-tion (UGSSA), continued their picketing yesterday afternoon, after they were told by the university’s administration that there is no money left to grant a salary and wage increase, and that the imposed 3% and 4% hikes implemented last November would be the final position.
The unions started their picketing actions on Tuesday with 20 persons but expanded yesterday, as over 36 staff showed up in front of the Vice Cha-ncellor’s office, a building which previously functioned as a lecture theatre.
“The administrators get hefty salary and they want to give us peanuts. I give credit to the government for giving the university more money over the years but where the money is going, we do not know. It is not going to the core responsibilities of the university, which is teaching and learning. We are saying, cut the talks, cut the cocktails, cut, cut those things and put more money to teaching and learning,” Pat Francis, who has been working at the university since 1986 said.
In light of the actions by the unions, the Ministry of Social Protection’s Depart-ment of Labour had said on Tuesday through a press release, that the Chief Labour Officer, Charles Ogle, convened conciliation proceedings between the administration of the university and the unions.
However, according to Mellissa Ifill, a lecturer at the university and a past president of UGSSA, they are not interested in conciliation meetings, since they are of the opinion that the Department of Labour has been swaying in favour of the administration.
“I think conciliation meetings are useless. Frankly, my experience—and I’m speaking as a past president of the union— and my experience with the Department of Labour has not been a good one. I do not think that they have been arbiters that have been neutral and as far as I am concerned, they have always advocated on behalf of the administration; in essence, trying to force the staff to comply with whatever dictates come from the administration,” she said, while stating that the unions would have very little confidence in any conciliation under the auspices of the Department of Labour.
“Let us audit the university to find out where the monies have gone. We have our suspicions but we expect that a forensic audit would be able to reveal all,” she added.
Francis also echoed similar sentiments and said that they want the administration to “open the books and let us see what is in there”.
“We got to have a forensic audit to see where the money is going,” she said.
Francis also explained that the university needs to move from a North American structure to its own structure, where it is for the people of Guyana and the students, as what the fathers of the country had envisioned.
“This top-down business has to end. I have been here since 1986 picketing. How is that? It means something is inherently wrong with the system,” Francis added.
Ifill also pointed out that from their investigation, the university, at the moment, is in a situation that they have not witnessed for a number of years, since small items such as toilet paper are lacking.
“I spoke to some members of the clerical staff and they are telling me that they are on their last rolls of toilet paper. That they have no paper clips, no rubber bands, no pens, no staples and they are describing the condition of the offices in a way in which we haven’t seen in years and so the question is, what is going on at this university? You talk to cleaners and basic cleaning supplies, they don’t have,” she said, while also pointing out that a large part of the campus has been without internet access since the beginning of the week.
Ifill also pointed out that from their investigations, the university’s funds have been spent to fund the numerous trips that members of the administration have been on and these trips, they were advised, are first class in nature.
“We saw all the glossy brochures advertising all the functions at the Marriott and the Pegasus and Duke Lodge and all these expensive locations. We’ve heard about all kinds of dinners and so we suspect that a lot of the monies have been going in these directions,” she added.
The unions said that they will keep up their actions as long as they can and are unsure at this moment whether more stringent measures will be taken.
While the exercise was starting yesterday, Vice-Chancellor of the university, Professor Ivelaw Griffith, passed by on the way into his office, and told one of the staff that they were “searching for monies.”