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UG unions appeal for conciliation as strike drags on

As a strike by University of Guyana (UG) workers dragged into its third day, the two unions have sought to rubbish claims by the institution’s administration and the Labour Ministry that negotiations have not collapsed and have formally called for conciliation.

The Senior Staff Association (UGSSA) and the Workers Union (UGWU) have rejected UG Vice Chancellor, Professor Jacob Opadeyi ‘s withdrawal of a pay-offer and cancellation of talks on February 5 because industrial action continues.

In letter dispatched to Chief Labour Officer, Charles Ogle the unions sought to justify their resort to a sit-in-strike and now a full-scale strike on grounds that the UG administration has breached a terms of resumption agreement dating back to February 2012 and brokered by the Chief Labour Officer’s office.

“Almost three years have passed since the signing of the agreement, since UG workers ended their industrial action and were thereafter confronted with the UG administration breaching every item contained in the agreement,” said UGSSA President Melissa Ifill and UGWU President, Bruce Haynes in a joint letter to Ogle on February 9.

The workers are demanding a 60 to 75 percent increase in wages and salaries, 200 percent increase in allowances and duty free concessions for eligible staffers. But UG’s  now withdrawn offer was 25 percent to be applied over three years, with a 5% increase in the first year, 10% the following year, and the remaining 10% the year after that.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 on Friday, February 6, 2015, the unions had planned to table a final proposal of 25%, 25%, 25%, over a three year period. 

In their February 10 letter to the Chief Labour Officer, the unions sought to make out a case for Conciliation by citing the Labour Ministry’s commitment to do so in the Terms of Resumption in February 2012. “There have been accusations of bad faith by both sides and trust has broken down. The Unions are therefore seeking your intervention in brokering an agreement between the parties to resume normalcy at the University and arrive at a settlement that is fair to staff,”  Ifill and Haynes added.

The unions recalled submitting their memorandum of demands in May 2012 but no negotiation was called as agreed upon, one month later. “The Unions over the next two and a half years were confronted with a plethora of excuses and delays despite repeated requests for negotiation meetings,” the workers’ representatives stated. They highlighted that over that period, the Unions arrived at least on 7 occasions, at scheduled negotiation meetings which had to be cancelled because the University’s negotiating team wasn’t quorate while at most other scheduled negotiation meetings, nothing was achieved as the University made repeated  requests for time to assess its financial status.

For its part, the cash-strapped UG administration has cited a study that shows that lecturers are robbing students of contact hours and failing to conduct research.

The Students Society (UGSS) continues to support the workers’ demands as part of an overall struggle to improve teaching-learning conditions. The students are calling for more furniture, new classroom technologies, better security on campus due to robberies, a modern library, new laboratories, punctual delivery of grades and improved sanitation. “This missive serves to reassure all staff that the UGSS continues to acknowledge and support all your efforts. We remain supporters of your cause. It is a just cause,” said UGSS President, Joshua Griffith in an email to the unions.