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UG students hope to force Council to meet pay-fatigued workers

Students show hands as an indication of their commitment to picket Pro Chancellor, Bibi Shaddick’s office on Thursday

The University of Guyana Student Society (UGSS) will picket Pro Chancellor Bibi Shaddick’s office on Thursday unless the Council of the University of Guyana (UG) agrees by Tuesday to meet with disgruntled staffers on Wednesday.

The decision was taken Monday afternoon when the UGSS held a consultation with the student populace on the tarmac of the university’s Education Lecture Theatre (ELT) to discuss issues affecting them.  

“They (UG staffers) want the negotiating team to sit down and go negotiate. Let us push for a Council meeting. Get it done tonight,” first-year Student-at-Law Adel Lilly told UGSS executives yesterday afternoon when students were asked to propose plans to help rectify their dilemma.

Pursuant to Lilly’s suggestion, Griffith said a letter will be sent to Vice Chancellor (VC) Jacob Opadeyi demanding that Council meet with the unions on Wednesday. The students decided that if a favorable response is not given by tomorrow they will move to picket Shaddick’s office on Thursday. UG’s Council has but two statutory meetings annually. All other meetings are special meetings, for which seven days prior notice has to be given despite this reality the students are resolute.

Monday’s consultation comes on the first day of a sit-in called by the University of Guyana Senior Staff Association (UGSSA) and the University of Guyana Workers Union (UGWU). The unions say their demands for better wages have gone unheeded for too long and that the situation is currently “untenable.” Important to note is that UG’s Council has currently halted negotiations with the unions on their demands.

UGSS seemed to have intended to focus more on campus conditions but a recent notice by Vice-Chancellor (VC) Jacob Opadeyi concerning the imminent provision of, among other things, 3000 new desks/chair combinations, free internet service campus wide, smart classroom facilities, additional classrooms and multimedia projectors for classrooms seemed to have placated students on these issues for the time being, so that the focus became the industrial action currently underway.

A second-year Student-at-Law noted that the already short semesters will be cut shorter if industrial action continues. This will which lead to less time to cover large amounts of work. “We have no guarantee that exams will be pushed back,” the student complained, while pointing out that a lecturer decided not to teach this morning on account supporting the sit-in.

Another student noted that the release of grades may be affected by the sit in as lecturers can either refuse to complete marking or administrative staff can refuse to add grades to university’s database.

“The staff has decided to take action against the administration, and we need to do the same,” Elsie Harry, who represents the UGSS on the Council, charged after the UGSS was asked if they had any proposals to put to the students. Some students did not agree.  

“Nowhere in the proposal is there a plan to end the industrial action. But to prolong it,” third-year Student-at-Law Nicholas Carryl pointed out to Harry. “Propose an alternative way to have the demands met that will see the students not being held to ransom,” he suggested. Harry, in response, said “we asked the lecturers if they could consider not pursuing industrial action beyond the initial three days. We asked them to have grades released, and that course material be provided in the interim.” All efforts have been unsuccessful so far.

Before the students came to a decision on a plan of action several took the opportunity to vent their disapproval of the way the UGSS has been handling students’ affairs. One student said that the body needs to communicate more with students, while several others bashed Griffith on his decision to make Harry the students’ representative on UG’s Council.

Several law students chimed in in this particular issue. Mannon Dennison, a third-year Student-at-Law argued that while he does not challenge Harry’s ability to function, she has not taken an oath to the office and is not accountable to the students. Glenfield Dennison, another third-year law student, gave Griffith a verbal bashing for the decision, and told him he needs to correct it. At one point Glenfield even climbed onto the rails of the ramp from which Griffith addressed students, and usurped control of the consultation. Despite the criticism Griffith said that he will “stand by the decision” to have Harry represent the UGSS at Council.

A member of the Alliance for Change (AFC) turned up at one point and encouraged the students to call and work toward the de-politicization of Council. His comments were well received until he started to campaign on behalf of the party.

“This is a promise, an AFC government will…” At this point the man became inaudible as students started laughing heartily and eventually became disinterested. A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) MP Christopher Jones also attended the consultation, but he did not speak.

It was Lilly who began to steer the meeting down the direction of having the UGSS demand Council recommence negotiations with the unions.

“The solution to the matter is you writing Council now, because there is nothing else we can do. They can change it. It is Bibi Shaddick and her Council that has to approve the negotiating team. If that is done now, lecturers will go back to teaching,” Lilly said.