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University of Guyana Vice Chancellor calls off pay talks, withdraws offer

Vice Chancellor Professor Jacob Opadeyi picketing for workers to return to work in exchange for fatter pay packets. He was flanked by representatives of the staff and students with placards stating their demands.

University of Guyana Vice Chancellor, Professor Jacob Opadeyi on Thursday withdrew the institution’s pay offer and called off wage and salary negotiations until workers end their now two-week old sit-in strike, vowing that the administration would not return to the bargaining table under duress.

“For the negotiation to continue all workers must be back to work and classes are to be conducted as scheduled. We urge the workers of the University to resume duty without delay so as to pave the way for a genuine negotiation aimed to address their concerns,” he said in a letter to the President of the University of Guyana Senior Staff Association (UGSSA), Mellissa Ifill and the President of the University of Guyana Workers Union (UGWU), Bruce Haynes.

Ifill, in a missive to staff, rejected Opadeyi’s assertions that he was unaware that industrial unrest was continuing when pay-talks resumed on Wednesday. She pointed out that at every step of the dispute the Vice Chancellor had been formally notified of industrial actions.  “The Unions always send notifications to the VC on the nature of our industrial action at least 48 hours before embarking on same. Moreover at the end of the meeting the Union negotiators were asked to appeal to staff to end the action and accept the offer,” she said.

The administration proposed a 25% increase to be applied over three years, with a 5% increase in the first year, 10% the following year, and the remaining 10% the year after that.  If the negotiations had continued today (Friday, February 6, 2015), the unions had planned to table a final proposal of 25%, 25%, 25%, over a three year period. Among the staffers’ original list of demands is a 60% wage-hike, a 200% increase in allowances, and duty free concessions for eligible staffers. 

Against the background of the ongoing industrial unrest and the rejection of the administration’s proposal, the Vice Chancellor bluntly called of the talks: “As a result of these, we have withdrawn the offer. We cannot negotiate under the atmosphere of industrial actions,” he said.

The Personnel Department has already written to workers informing them of wage and salary deductions for man-hours lost due to the sit-in strike.

The UGSSA Chairman has since told staff that the unions have learnt of plans to lock them out of the campus on Friday, but if that happens they would go ahead with a meeting slated for 9:30 AM at the northern entrance. “We have been warned that the University intends to lock out workers who are exercising their right to engage in protest and demand decent wages and working conditions. In light of this mean-spirited missive from the VC, the Unions would not be surprised if this occurs,” she said.

Opadeyi hinted that the blocking of ingress and egress was illegal. The act of blocking the entrances of the University and debarring workers and visitors from conducting their business, as it happened on  Monday February 2, 2015, is unlawful. The rights of workers to go to work and not to be restrained while going to work are protected under the law,” he said. More than 15 years ago, protesting  UG students who locked the gates and burnt tires were snatched by police, placed in trucks and detained at police stations.

Referring to the unions’ previous claims that pay negotiations had collapsed, the Vice Chancellor suggested that the unions should seek conciliation through the Ministry of Labour’s Chief Labour Officer.

The Vice Chancellor said the administration wanted the more than 5,000 students to return for classes, even as their concerns are addressed with a “high degree of urgency.” “We wish to restate our position very clearly: we will not be negotiating while Union members or group of workers are off the job or sit-in without doing work,” he said.

Opadeyi expressed dismay and sadness  that Mangement and Industrial Relations lecturers have failed to advise union leaders that they should abide by the law in seeking redress.