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UG unions’ claim that pay talks collapsed is flawed- Chief Labour Officer

UG Vice Chancellor, Professor Jacob Opadeyi flanked by staff and students as they picket for different demands (file photo)

The Ministry of Labour says the unions representing University of Guyana (UG) workers cannot treat a three-year old promise to resolve a pay dispute as still valid, and staff have  been told to first call off the strike and return to the bargaining table.

“I wish to emphasize that those Terms of Resumption are not unending or indefinite. I do believe that there was adequate time to move those matters to the Ministry of Labour since 2012 if they were not adequately resolved at the bilateral level,” said Chief Labour Officer, Charles Ogle to the Senior Staff Association (UGSSA) and Workers Union (UGWU) in a letter dated February 11.

Relying on a clause in that agreement that the Labour Ministry would conciliate should the talks collapse, the unions claimed that the talks failed after the administration withdrew an offer of increased pay and scrapped the talks.

The Chief Labour Officer assured the workers’ representatives that the Labour Ministry would ensure that “there is no victimization of workers” and there would be “no break in service and that the status quo ante will prevail. Ogle further promised that the Labour Ministry would intervene if the talks now collapse.

UG’s academic and non-academic staff embarked on a sit-in strike at the beginning of the semester and on Wednesday decided to escalate the unrest to an indefinite strike. This followed the February 5, 2015 withdrawal of a wage and salary offer and the cancellation of negotiations by Vice Chancellor, Professor Jacob Opadeyi on grounds that his negotiators would not hold talks while the workers were off the job.

Ogle also flayed the UGSSA and UGWU for escalating industrial actions from a sit-in strike to a full-blown strike rather than engaging the Ministry of Labour. “They again did not seek intervention of the Ministry of Labour but proceeded to continue industrial actions,” he said. Further, he argued that the ministry was unaware if the issues that have led to this recent industrial action are the same as those that were part of the 2012 Terms of Resumption.

While he criticized the union for violating standard industrial relations practices- which he expects both sides to abide by- he said the Ministry was ready to mediate in the dispute if that becomes necessary. “Notwithstanding these apparent lapses on the part of unions, the Ministry would like to have the issues in contention resolved to the satisfaction of both parties and to play whatever mediation role is required in the process at the appropriate time,” he said.

In the now aborted talks, the UG administration had proposed a 25%t increase over the next three years with a 5% increase in the first year, 10% the following year, and the remaining 10% the year after that. That was rejected and the union had planned to table a counter-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.