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Salary dispute may delay University of Guyana’s resumption of classes

President of the University of Guyana Workers Union, Bruce Haynes addressing workers in the small lecture theatre.

Unions representing University of Guyana (UG) workers on Monday decided to delay the commencement of the coming semester unless the administration, by Thursday, responds favorably to several demands including a 60% pay-hike.

Additionally, the unions have signaled their rejection of the ‘Academic Workload Policy,’ proposed by UG Vice Chancellor (VC) , Professor Jacob Opadeyi as it was created without their involvement.

These positions were adopted in a packed Small Lecture Theatre (SLT) today during a meeting called by the executives of the University of Guyana Senior Staff Association (UGSSA) and the University of Guyana Workers Union (UGWU).

The meeting follows an announcement last week that wage negotiations between the unions and the university’s administration have again broken down, and the revelation that Opadeyihas sought to change workload policies without consulting the university’s academic staff.

It was initially proposed that a list of demands be sent to the VC for him to act on. However Head of the Department of Law, Sheldon McDonald, pointed out that there is no need to rewrite the demands as have already been asserted in prior negotiations. Among the demands are a 60% wage increase, 200% increase in travel allowance, revision of the medical scheme and restoration of duty-free concession for academic and some non-academic staff.

Opadeyi will be informed that he has until Thursday January 22nd to respond to these demands. Barring a favorable response the unions say they will take action to ensure UG’s recommencement later this month is delayed. Some staff members suggested that a sit-in would be effective while others suggested that staffs work-to-role but there was no consensus.

This is due, in part, to concerns that academic staffers may not stand with their non-academic staff colleagues. On Monday former UGSSA President Patsy Frances said “I think we know that (UGWU) are going to do it, and (academic) staff are not going to do it, so I say let we get back to them.” A non-academic staff member told Caribbean News Desk that “any time we have strike and so, normally the academic staff don’t strike. They normally end up teaching or whatever.” Another said the last time (there was strike)we lost moneycause they (the administration) were able to say that they worked so you had no excuse.”

The unions are slated to meet after Thursday to decide what action will be taken to effect the delay in the commencement of the semester.

Meanwhile, the unions have rejected the new workload policy proposed by Opadeyi and plan to boycott a meeting tomorrow which the VC has called for to discuss the matter. The policy, if adopted, would lead to, among other things, lecturers teaching a minimum of four 3 credit courses per semester, or three 4 credit courses per semester. This would result in less lecturers, particularly part-time staff. The savings garnered for the reduction of lecturers in this way is what Opadeyi proposes, Ifill said, will fund the salary increase.

The unions say they were not consulted on the new policy arrangement and that this violates the last signed collective agreement on staff service which states that “changes in regulations governing conditions of service are made only after consultations with the UGSSA.”An idea to attend the meeting for the sole purpose of rejecting the policy was floated but decided against for fear that Opadeyi may argue that there was consultation.

McDonald has advised that there seems to be enough grounds for the unions to move to the courts to have an injunction against Opadeyi’s proposal.

Ifill also pointed out that UG’s administration is insisting that UGSSA and UGWU bargain separately since the UGSSA is not registered under the Trades Union Recognition Act. Last week the unions had said that their non-registration was the fault of the administration, and in any case, irrelevant, as the administration has for years recognized it as the legitimate bargaining body for academic staff.

There seemed to be mixed feelings about the unions holding a united front but following several points by Frances the consensus changed in favor of such a front. She said “We got to pull together…if you ain’t talking to us together you ain’t talking to us. Opadeyi wants to divide us because he knows we will be weaker but he does not know how to do that.” She noted that though both classes of workers were previously under one union “a division was created when a carrot (a 100% pay increase) was dangled. A few people with big mouths were able to persuade many people that we should divide and we did…look where we are today.”