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Workers, students unite to shut down University of Guyana from Tuesday

Attorney-at-Law and Chartered Accountant, Christopher Ram making a point at the University of Guyana staff meeting.

Staff and students of the University of Guyana (UG) on Monday agreed to shut down the Turkeyen Campus on Tuesday to pressure authorities into increasing salaries and improving the teaching-learning environment.

“The students have advised me that they are planning to shut the campus down so they might actually preempt us so I suggest based on the response that we join with the students and we lock it down,” said President of the University of Guyana Senior Staff Association (UGSSA), Melissa Ifill.

At separate meetings, they said that they were fed up with repeated promises despite an increase in tuition fees in recent months.

Vice Chancellor, Professor Jacob Opadeyi did not turn up to the meeting with the students because he was said to have been admitted to the Caribbean Heart Institute (CHI).

Ifill announced that efforts would be made to acquire strike-relief funds because the end-game of higher salaries and allowances and better working conditions was greater. “If you don’t get this thing now, you will never get it,” added Association Secretary, Dr. Patsy Francis.

Ifill said the Vice Chancellor would be informed that the sit-in strike continues and that workers would join with students in closing the campus from Tuesday morning. They also plan to protest outside the Office of the President this week. Ifill appealed to the academic and non-academic staff to be united. “I hope that we all stand together and that we stand in solidarity with each other. I think if we stand in solidarity with each other the likelihood of us getting what we want or close to what we want as quickly as possible is greater than if we are fragmented and some people are on the job and the work is being done notwithstanding some people being off,” she said.

University of Guyana Students Society (UGSS) activist, Sherod Duncan called on the workers not to cave in because their interests and those of the students are shared rather than separate. “I think from the meeting this morning, the students feel the same way that if we give in now we will not see the kind of change that we want and so we the students are prepared to go long-term into this and if the unions have the same mandate and the same will then I think we can accomplish much,” he said.

Part time UG Law Lecturer and Chartered Accountant, Christopher Ram cautioned against making demands that would see government being pushed to incur expenditure more than the one-twelfth of the precedinhg year’s that is legally allowed in the absence of a national budget. “It’s something that I think we need to think as we may have to decide and if the administration is trying to be reasonable, we may also have to say ‘let us agree and you will have to pay that subsequently when there is a time that such an appropriation is made’…,” he said.

But Deputy Vice Chancellor, Elizabeth Ramlall read Opadeyi’s address in which he  cited the need for lecturers to work 360 hours annually, employ lecturers with a minimum of a Master’s Degree and cut by half the GUY$150 million annually being earned by the 177 part time lecturers.

The administration made a stirring appeal for the workers to end their now one-week old “sit-in strike” rather than extend the semester by two weeks. “In the interest of our students who cannot endure a setback in their study life, who are hoping to complete their education on schedule, and enter into the job market or enroll at the Law School on time, in the interest of our hardworking staff who, though sitting-in are unhappy about the current industrial atmosphere, I humbly request a return to normalcy,” he said.

But the UGSSA President assured that “the students would not in any way short-changed once we are back on the job.”

After the students’ meeting with the Deputy Vice Chancellor, they marched to the rear entrance of the Turkeyen Campus where they draped the institution’s sign with a black cloth that read “Wake Up UG #UG Revolution,” and “We want value for our dollar #UG Revolution.”

Responding to a demand by the UGWU and UGSSA for a 60 percent increase in salaries, the UG administration promised that the salaries and benefits of lecturers would be hiked but their workload must be equitable. The Opadeyi statement refers to a Human Resource Study at UG that shows that 29 percent of lecturers spend less than 20 hours per week on the job and 48 percent spend less than 10 hours per week teaching. In terms of Research Publications, 70 percent of lecturers “publish zero papers per year” and 80 percent spend less than 10 hours per week on research. The Vice Chancellor questioned how a full-time lecturer can be contracted to teach nine hours per week and why over 50 percent of UG’s lecturers are not available for students’ consultation between 9 AM and 4 PM daily. “I must admit that the salaries of our lecturers are very low compared to regional salaries, but so also are their teaching loads. We have full-time lecturers who teach one day in a week and disappear for the rest of the week but return with no research output at the end of the year,” he said.

The UG administration said that it could increase salaries if government increases its subvention, decrease part-time expenditure by 50 percent, reduce programme offerings with low enrolment, maintain an increase in tuition fees and boost enrolment in Science and Technology programmes through government scholarships to 1,000 new students over the next five years. 

The Opadeyi statement said the Human Resource Study finds that an increase in wages and salaries at UG “will not necessarily lead to improvement in the quality of offerings and service delivery. Increase the salary today; it will be the same old, and same old.”

In apparently laying down the ground-rules for any negotiations, the Vice Chancellor thru Deputy Vice Chancellor Ramlall, said the talks must be held in the context of renegotiating terms of employment to include a review of sabbatical leave and all leaves, reaffirming the meaning of 360 hours annually, a code of conduct for lecturers, performance evaluation and quality pay for quality services.  He wants student evaluation results to be considered in renewing contracts; managers, the Vice Chancellor and Heads of Department to be held accountable and incentives to be granted for quality service and penalties for inept service.

The administration cited a number of achievements over the past two years. They include a reduction in the deficit by GUY$300 million, elimination of wasteful expenditure, introduction of revenue-earning programmes with tuition fees of GUY$800,000 to GUY$1 million; introduction of facilities fees to upgrade teaching and learning resources; increase in tuition fees to support operating expenses; increase in retirement age from 60 to 65 years; active implementation of the UG Science and Technology Support Project that will improve physical infrastructure.

While the UG administration boasted that it has introduced free Internet for staff and students , provided 3,000 new desk-chair combinations, 1,500 lockers for students, fans in classrooms and multimedia projectors in 25 classrooms; many students told Deputy Vice Chancellor Ramlall that they were yet to experience those improvements.