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UG workers ignore Labour Ministry’s back-to-work call

University of Guyana (UG) staffers have shunned the Ministry of Labour’s back-to-work call and resumption of pay negotiations and have instead vowed to emain on strike until the university’s administration  makes them a favourable offer. 

Earlier this week, Charles Ogle, the Ministry of Labour’s Chief Labour Officer (CLO), in a letter to the unions, said the unions’ decision to strike while negotiations for wages and better conditions at the university were ongoing “does not accord with good industrial relations practices and while the ministry has always been sympathetic to the interests of workers we would equally request unions and workers to follow the normal and recognized industrial relations practices.”

The unions are now in their third week of industrial action, and as of yesterday, they say, their industrial action is indefinite.

During an interview Friday morning, President of the University of Guyana Senior Staff  Association (UGSSA), Melissa Ifill, said “we are committed to staying on the picket line until an offer is made,” and added that “we are willing to entertain an interim offer while we negotiate.”

Staffers represented by the UGSSA and the UGWU say they will not go back to work before or even while negotiations resume as this backfired in 2012. In 2012 staffers had gone on strike but went back to work when negotiations were promised. However, benefits never materialized and staffers now have neither trust nor faith in the administration.

Ogle has said that the 2012 Terms of Resumption which ushered in a return to normalcy in the said year are not “unending or indefinite” and that the unions had “adequate time” to take their issues to the ministry if they “were not adequately resolved at the bilateral level.” Responding to this assertion Ifill said that the unions had realised that a number of things stymied negotiations and wanted to give the process a chance.

In any event, the unions are skeptical of the ministry’s role in the resolution of this dispute. Ifill says that the ministry has a mandate to facilitate dispute settlements when the need arises, but that “we do not believe that the ministry is unbiased in his particular matter.” Ifill says she has learned that the letter sent to them by Ogle was first sent to Vice Chancellor (VC) Jacob Opadeyi and the university’s administration for comment and input. “We are also advised that the letters sent by the VC to the unions withdrawing the (administration’s) offers and insisting that they will not negotiate unless they go back to work was seen by ministry officials before it came to
us.”

Meanwhile, Ifill says that while some classes at UG have commenced, the vast majority have not. Yesterday a University of Guyana Student Society (UGSS) special committee posted a list of around 90 classes which they say have commenced. The list was prepared and posted on Facebook at the behest of students who are desirous of attending ongoing classes.

Ifill clarified that some of the classes posted are for Masters programmes that are run under a different payment system. Further, she said that some of the lecturers whose classes are posted as commenced have confirmed with her that they are not teaching. At any rate, Ifill explained, a total of 609 courses are supposed to be ongoing at UG’s Turkeyen campus, while 178 are supposed to be taking place at Tain. Approximately 90 ongoing classes is therefore nowhere near normal.

“The university is trying to create the sense that the university is getting back to normal, but we know better,” Ifill said.