Unions slam UG administration’s claims of regular meetings

The University of Guyana Senior Staff Association (UGSSA) and the University of Guyana Workers Union (UGWU) have rejected claims by the institution’s administration that it had been meeting in “good faith” with union executives for several months.

According to the unions, between November 2016 and February of this year, there

Union members during the protest last week

had been just about three bilateral meetings with the administration. One of those meetings was an agreed negotiation meeting for February 27. The unions said they sent a full delegation to this meeting, only to be told by the Vice Chancellor, Ivelaw Griffith that the meeting was not for negotiation.

“Professor Griffith said that he did not wish to negotiate at this stage, because he would not be able to make a substantial offer to staff. He said nothing about being unable to negotiate because of rules forbidding him from doing so,” the two unions said in a statement over the weekend.

According to the statement, the unions met with the staff, who said that they would be interested in any offer that the administration wished to make. The staff said too that they needed negotiations to begin immediately.

“Staff also expressed concern about the state of the sewerage system on campus. The administration responded to these demands after two letters were sent to them on March 8 and March 15. Their response on March 16th stated that emergency work would be done on the sewerage system, but there would be no movement on the salary offer or on negotiations”.

The unions said the town hall meeting on March 20 was deemed an ‘emergency’ as it was called after the unions sent their final letter on March 17, indicating that since their demands were not met, industrial action would go ahead.

“It was an event that shut down the University for the entire morning with less than 30 minutes’ notice, and shared very little new information with the staff. The Vice Chancellor did, however, further demonstrate his lack of respect for the industrial relations process by indicating for the first time what percentage increases were being contemplated for wages and salaries for 2017. He also argued against the proposed industrial action.”

According to the unions, regarding the 2017 budget, the two bodies were not consulted in the preparation of the original budget presented to the Finance Ministry. Further, it said the Vice Chancellor’s recent assertion that he needed to have the budget approved before he could negotiate demonstrated that he perhaps did not understand what was involved in the process, the unions said.

If UG’s Council approves a budget with a certain percentage for staff, there is no truly meaningful negotiation thereafter. The negotiations can only occur while the budget is under revision, and priorities are being considered. This is why the unions have moved to industrial action, so that staff interests could be included in the document that is taken to the Council meeting on Thursday, March 30.Last Wednesday, the two bodies picketed the administration office of UG, raising concerns over the delays in the commencement of salary negotiationsAt the protest action, UGSSA President Jewel Thomas explained to Guyana Times that the staff found the delays unacceptable and were calling for a much earlier date.

“The reason for this protest here today is that we do believe that the money is available for them to begin negotiations, but for reasons known to them, they are delaying those negotiations,” Thomas posited.

Furthermore, the UGSSA President noted that the administration was trying to tie the negotiations to the highly unpopular tuition hike. “Our position is that there is no need, whatsoever, to do that… There is no need to tie the two things together, we don’t believe in being played against our students. We don’t believe you should pit staff against students; we reject that,” Thomas outlined.