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UG staff meeting with Vice Chancellor fruitless- unions

UG workers venting their frustration. (File photo)

University of Guyana union leaders on Friday said the hundreds of workers walked away empty handed from a meeting with Vice Chancellor Professor Jacob Opadeyi.

During his opening remarks at the more than one-hour long meeting with staff in the George Walcott Lecture Theatre (GWLT), he did not address burning concerns such as late payment of salaries and non-remittance of income tax, social security and insurance deductions.

The media were barred from entering the meeting.

Representatives of the UG Senior Staff Association (UGSSA) and the UG Workers Union (UGWU) said they have accepted Opadeyi’s invitation to meet with him next week to discuss their grievances.

It was only when Chairman of the UGSSA Dr Patsy Francis asked him to say whether late salaries would be a thing of the past that Opadeyi assured that salaries for July would not be paid late. He gave no guarantee beyond then.

While Opadeyi has said that the estimated GUY$400 to GUY$500 million debt would be wiped out after a special audit was completed by a team from the University of the West Indies (UWI), Francis was somewhat sceptical about that promise. The audit is scheduled to be finished by year-end.

“We do not believe that the Vice Chancellor should peg the writing off of the debt to the end of the audit because, regardless of what the audit says, the debt has to be written off because there is no way we can move forward with the debt,” said Francis.

Opadeyi expressed concern that everyone was busy pointing accusing fingers rather than helping to change the archaic system at UG including working as lecturers for 10 years or more without promotion. He pledged to ensure that workers receive their increment and urged them to fight for their rights as no one could punish them for doing so.

Outspoken academic, Economics Professor Thomas Singh, speaking from the floor, asked Opadeyi what he has done to cultivate trust and suggested that his remarks were empty. “What are you doing about building trust?…It’s good to hear that so many things are wrong but what has been done to make things right,” said Singh.

UGSSA Vice Chairman Dr. Melissa Ifill later told reporters that the staff meeting with Opadeyi, which the unions had requested, turned out to be useless because no real solutions were offered.

“From the perspective of the unions, we do not believe that our concerns have been addressed. The Vice Chancellor has simply reiterated what we already know- the multiple, deep-seated problems at the University of Guyana,” she said.

Ifill said workers wanted to hear a “very clear” proposal on how to rescue the tertiary institution financially, addressing lack of morale on campus except for a “a lot of rhetoric, a lot of sound-bites, a lot of jokes, a lot of laughter.”

The UGSSA wanted specific proposals about a financial plan, salary increases and promotions. “We did not get the quality of the answers that we would have hoped for,” she said.

UGSSA Chairman, Dr. Francis called on the Vice Chancellor to cease plans to restructure UG’s departments and faculties until a report by a Jamaica consultancy firm on the institution has been adopted and discussed.