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University of Guyana Council orders resumption of pay talks

Newly-appointed Pro-Chancellor of the University of Guyana, Bibi Shaddick being greeted by a picketing demonstration on arrivall for a Council meeting Friday afternoon

The Council of the University of Guyana (UG) has instructed the university’s negotiating team to resume negotiations with the unions on wage increases and other benefits, although this may not be enough to convince staffers on sit-in to go back to work.

The decision was taken during an extraordinary Council meeting held this evening in the university’s Education Lecture Theatre (ELT). The meeting was called by Vice Chancellor Jacob Opadeyi at the behest of the University of Guyana Student Society (UGSS).

“Council has instructed its Negotiating Team to resume its engagement with the UGWU and the UGSSA, without pre-conditions or delay,” read a statement given to members of the press by UG Pro-Chancellor Bibi Shaddick as she emerged from the concluded meeting.

A group of students had gathered for a candlelight vigil as the meeting went on, while several staff members who had participated in a peaceful picket earlier this afternoon lingered to await the outcome of the meeting. Both demonstrations were planned with the meeting in mind.

“We have been advised that this means that Council has given (Opadeyi) the remit that he has indicated he would like, or he needs to receive before he can resume full negotiations with us,” remarked President of the University of Guyana Senior Staff Association (UGSSA), Melissa Ifill, to students and staffers following the meeting.

In an effort to end the sit-in, Opadeyi, earlier this week, proposed to have negotiations between UG’s negotiating team and the unions recommence. He had said that Council would meet in two weeks at which time the necessary remit would be attained. The unions though, had resolved to maintain their sit-in until and unless the meeting was held. Looking to avert further delay in the recommencement of the semester UGSS, on Monday, wrote Opadeyi requesting an earlier meeting.

The UGSS wrote the VC on Monday and the student body had resolved to picket Shaddick’s office unless a favourable was had by Tuesday. Opadeyi eventually responded saying he had called a meeting for today.

Ifill told the students and staffers, who gathered after the meeting, that the decision is “an initial, and partial victory of the combined union because there had been an attempt to not negotiate with the UGSSA.”

Important to note though, is that tonight’s decision will not necessary see a halt in the ongoing sit-in. “The executives of the unions will deliberate over the weekend and we will communicate with you certainly by Sunday, Ifill said to students and executive members of the UGSS.

Though briefed on the result of the meeting Ifill was not allowed to take part in its proceedings. Friday afternoon’s meeting was intended to determine the conditions under which the administration will negotiate with the unions and Caribbean News Desk is advised that Council, by so doing, generated a conflict of interest for Ifill, and other non-Council appointed members. In total, four members of the university’s staff were asked to leave the meeting during its deliberations.

Ifill remarked that while she understood why she, a part of the unions’ negotiating team, would be asked to leave there were no such reasons to require the others to leave. In so doing, Ifill said, the council insinuated that the representatives could not be trusted to act accordingly.

Former UGSSA President Patsy Frances lamented the fact that with the exception of the UGSS representative, mostly persons in political parties or with strong, overt ties to political parties took part in the deliberations.

Heeding the call of their unions, the majority of UG’s academic and non-academic staff have been on a sit-in from Monday January 26th, when the semester was slated to commence, to today, January 30th. The decision to commence strike action came last week after the university’s administration failed to respond favorably to the unions’ demands, which include a 60% wage increase, a 200% increase in travel allowances and duty free concessions for academic and some non-academic staff members.

The university’s student have also started taking action against what they describe as unacceptable actions at the university. Such action is likely to continue unless conditions change, the students say.