Unless there is a change in GTUC’s stance on university matters, UG unions will withdraw from it

Dear Editor,

Comrade Lincoln Lewis’ dispute with Mr. Freddie Kissoon has brought into the public domain some issues which the University of Guyana Unions must comment on.  We’d appreciate the opportunity to do so via your newspaper. Please find our views set out below.

1.            In the recent past, the University of Guyana’s Unions have benefitted from the counsel and support of the GTUC and Comrade Lincoln Lewis in particular. For these, we remain grateful. However, the text of Comrade Lewis’s two letters to the press reveals that unfortunately, the Guyana Trades Union Congress’ General Secretary no longer has a grasp of the situation at the University, or the nature of the struggle in which the University of Guyana Unions are currently involved. We would have been very willing to explain the situation to the General Secretary if he had asked for clarification. However, he seems content to receive misguided information from other sources.  The Unions are not only engaged in salaries and wages negotiations with the University’s administration. We are also advocating for an institution-wide commitment and adherence to principles of transparency, accountability and good governance. The latter go to the heart of the proper functioning of the institution in a way that goes far beyond ‘gripes’ or ‘grievances. The University Unions, for instance, have been calling for an audit of the institution since last year. The Audit Office has indicated its intention to conduct a special audit. Though important, we believe however that more is required. It is no secret that the Unions are vehemently opposed to the policy priorities of the Vice- Chancellor and his so-called ‘Cabinet’.  In our recent letter to President David Granger (copied to the Ministers of Education and Finance) we therefore also requested a management audit to evaluate the effectiveness of the University’s senior management team and identify both the threats and opportunities confronting our institution so that strategies can be developed to both take advantage of the opportunities and mitigate risks. The advice from Comrade Lewis that we need to submit to industrial relations practice and go to the Department of Labour is consequently completely inappropriate: What use is the Chief Labour Officer in facilitating a management audit of the University?

2.            The UG Unions’ dissatisfaction with the GTUC’s representative on the UG council is not a recent occurrence. Since 2015 we’ve informally and formally engaged the General Secretary about the positions adopted by the GTUC’s nominee to the University’s Council.  We met formally with Comrade Lewis last year (25th June 2018) to state our concerns about the stances being adopted by the GTUC’s nominee.  Given that a new University Council had just been appointed in March 2018, and the GTUC had once again nominated Mr. English to be their nominee, we wished to once again state our concerns.  It was clear that Comrade Lewis did not wish to discuss Mr. English’s performance on the UG Council, and the University Unions therefore decided to engage the GTUC Executive through its President, Ms. Coretta McDonald.  While our repeated attempts to contact Ms McDonald were initially unsuccessful, we were finally able to meet with her after submitting a formal letter of complaint on 17th May 2019 that listed some of more shocking instances of Mr. English’s anti-worker stances.  That meeting with Ms. McDonald took place on Wednesday 22nd May, and Comrade Lewis and

another member of the GTUC’s Executive were present. We were told that they would try to contact Mr. English and discuss our concerns with him.

3.            Notwithstanding our aforementioned engagement with the GTUC, during the Council meeting of Thursday 23rd May, every position adopted by Mr. English on critical issues under deliberation was in opposition to the Unions’. He expressed his support for the Vice-Chancellor being paid in lieu of leave. He also stated his support for the Vice- Chancellor gaining a new contract without any evaluation. He advised that there should be a mechanism so that “minor irritants” of staff are dealt with and not come to the Council to “grind” Council down.  He also expressed support for the Vice-Chancellor’s spending, stating that he (English) viewed it from a businessman’s perspective.  These views clearly show that Mr. English has an extremely peculiar perspective on the University of Guyana, and the role of the University’s Council.  Like Comrade Lewis, he does not grasp that these are fundamental governance principles for which the Unions have been advocating, and moreover what they perceive as ‘minor irritants’ of staff go to the heart of workers’ rights.  He does not even appear to understand that the University is experiencing financial difficulties, and that these difficulties are affecting the University’s ability to satisfy its core mandate of educating our students.

4.            We note with great interest three points from the General Secretary’s recent letter to the press. The first one states that: “The GTUC sits on the Council as a Social Partner in keeping with its constitutional role. Ours is to bring a working class perspective as to the direction the institution should be going consistent with its mandate in creating an educated populace ready to meet the challenges/needs of national development [our emphasis].” The Unions have written to the TUC and outlined in great detail the multiple instances over many years when Mr. English openly and consistently adopted anti-worker positions. It is ironic that Comrade Lewis persists in his staunch defence of Mr. English whose stance, statements and policy advice contradict the very interests and principles Mr. Lewis notes the TUC ought to represent.

5.            The second and third points observe that: “The university unions have a representative on the Council. That representative sits there as the voice/counsel of organised labour on the campus” and “…our representative does not just act as an advocate of those employed at the UG and overtime has agreed and disagreed with other stakeholders on the Council consistent with interest and principles.” Taken together, these views expressed suggest that the General Secretary of the GTUC does not consider it necessary for the GTUC’s representative on the Council to act in solidarity with or to protect the rights and interests of the UG faculty and staff. We find this frankly astonishing and a betrayal of the University of Guyana workers by the GTUC – the main umbrella organisation of labour unions in Guyana and the body to which the University Unions (the UGSSA and the UGWU) are affiliated. The UG Unions never had any expectation that the GTUC’s nominee would endorse every position adopted by the Unions – but we did expect that the nominee would not adopt positions that were actively harmful to staff and anti-worker in nature. However, the harms done to workers do not seem to trouble Mr. English or Comrade Lewis.

6.            In light of the preceding, the UG Unions have written to the GTUC to indicate that unless there is some change in the umbrella body’s positions in the next week, we shall be taking steps to disaffiliate from the organization.  It would, of course, be a step we undertake with a great deal of regret. However, given the circumstances, we feel we have no other option.

Yours faithfully,

Dr Jewel Thomas

and Mr Bruce Haynes

on behalf of

UGWU & UGSSA Executives

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