Sit-in slows down UG; industrial action may continue for weeks

Last Updated on Tuesday, 27 January 2015, 3:09 by GxMedia

University of Guyana workers meet to further discuss their grievances.

University of Guyana (UG) staffers Monday commenced sit-in action which they say could last as many as two weeks if their demands remain unmet.

The sit-in, which is to run until Wednesday, became imminent after UG Vice Chancellor Jacob Opadeyi failed respond favorably to, among other things, a 60% wage increase by a deadline last week.

Caribbean News Desk understands that most academic and non-academic staff across the campus turned up to work but did nothing. Many lecturers also refused to teach, although some simply met with students for a few minutes before dismissing classes. There was also a notable scarcity of students on campus as many opted to stay home. Many eventually turned out for a meeting with University of Guyana Student Society (UGSS) Monday afternoon.

President of the University of Guyana Senior Staff Association (UGSSA), Melissa Ifill, during a meeting Monday, told the academic staff her union represents, and the non-academic staff represented by the University of Guyana Workers Union (UGWU) that the sit-in has had a measure of success.

Attempts to contact Opadeyi for an assessment of how the university’s work was affected were unsuccessful. During today’s meeting UG staffers said that if Council, by Wednesday, meets and instructs a team to recommence negotiations for an increase in wages they would be willing to end the sit-in and return to work. Unless such is done however, the industrial action will continue.

Ifill told staff members that Opadeyi today “made a number of proposals which he hopes will lead to us calling of action that we are currently on.” Opadeyi reportedly proposed to have the administration call a Council meeting in two weeks at which permission will be sought to continue wage negotiations. The VC is reportedly still requiring that the UGWU negotiate on behalf of both academic and non-academic staff since, unlike the UGSSA, it is recognized under the Trade Union Recognition Act. Staff members chided the proposal, especially since they do not believe it has been have been sanctioned by Council.

As such, not only are the staffers asking that Council give a formal commitment that Opadeyi has its blessings to make the proposal, but they have resolved to maintain industrial action until Council meets.  

“I think we should hold out until council meets,” suggested one staff member. This suggestion was greeted with thunderous applause. Another staff member said that “two weeks are two long. “No work until two weeks. You know how long Geology and Mines protesting? Them people still on the road, they still on this road,” another staff member noted.

In the event that Council does not meet in two weeks there has been a recommendation to maintain industrial action until such a meeting takes place. President of the University of Guyana Students Society (UGSS), Joshua Griffith, attended the meeting and he pointed out that students will suffer in the event of indefinite industrial action. He thus asked the unions if they would push for an earlier council meeting. “We cannot accept two weeks with no class,” Griffith stated, and promised to write the VC asking him to call a Council meeting earlier than initially scheduled.

Meanwhile, Sheldon McDonald, head of UG’s Law Department, has advised the unions that they may have a legal case against the administration on its sudden refusal to negotiate with the UGSSA. “The university negotiated in the past with the UGSSA over a continuous period, the union and the membership can rely on that up to and including in a court of law,” McDonald posited.  

Despite engaging in talks with the UGSSA since 2012 on wage increases, UG’s Council, last year, withdrew the remit of the negotiating team which was in talks with the unions.

McDonald said that the sudden decision to not negotiate with the UGSSA “is flagrantly illegal” and “mala fides.” He suggested that the unions have their legal advisors write the administration pointing out that “they are estopped” from taking the action they have proceeded to take. He further suggested that “the members of the public ought to be properly told of the nastiness, just the procedural ‘wutlessness’ (worthlessness) that is being visited against us.”