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Defiant striking UG workers march to Georgetown

University of Guyana workers marching on Brickdam, Georgetown.

University of Guyana (UG) workers on Monday marched from the Turkeyen Campus to the Georgetown, vowing not to return to classrooms and offices until a reasonable pay-offer is made.

The march, for which police permission was granted, was incident free. On arriving in the administrative section of the City, they stood in front of the Chief Labour Officer, Charles Ogle’s office on Brickdam for a few moments.

The workers numbered at least 200 persons including those who followed in vehicles. Among those on foot was A Partnership for National Unity’s (APNU), James Bond.  Many of the participants chanted their demand for a 60 percent increase in wages and salaries for academic and non-academic staff.

President of the Senior Staff Association (UGSSA), Dr. Mellissa Ifill rejected calls by UG administration, Ministry of Labour and President Donald Ramotar to return to work first and so pave the way for the resumption of negotiations.  “We stay outside, we stay out on the picket-line, we stay on industrial action until we get an offer that we can live with,” she said.

Ifill said the workers’ experience dating back to 2012 has shown that that approach has not worked and they cannot take anyone’s promise.  “The Ministry of Labour is not intervening to conciliate. The Ministry of Labour is not even intervening as they did in 2012 to come to some kind of terms of resumption agreement. They not intervening at all but yet they want us to go back (to work) but we are not going back,” she told Demerara Waves Online News. Against that background, the unions said they would call off the strike only if they get a “reasonable” interim offer and the resumption and satisfactory conclusion of negotiations in the shortest possible time.

The UGSSA boss rebuffed government and the UG administration’s position that it would not negotiate under duress in violation of standard industrial relations practices. “We are under duress. The administration is under duress but so are we. We are working in conditions that are subhuman, we are working in conditions where you don’t have basic materials, we are working in hot, dusty offices,” she said.

It is now almost one month since the workers first embarked on a sit-in strike that two weeks later escalated into a full-blown indefinite strike after UG Vice Chancellor; Professor Jacob Opadeyi withdrew an offer of 5% percent in the first year and 10% percent each in 2015 and 2016. The UGSSA and Workers Union (UGWU) are, however, insisting that on their demand of 25% percent annually over a three-year period, representing an increase in their original demand of 60%.

The Government Information Agency (GINA) on Sunday reported that the Guyanese leader described the industrial impasse as  “unfortunate” since the issue is really about the administration’s objective  to “lift the quality, they are following the government in wanting to build a world class university and give our students standards too. Many of our students complain that they don’t get marks early and they have to wait for a very long time and all of these things are what the vice-chancellor and the administration are demanding from our lecturers. I hope they will be able to resolve this matter in the speediest time”.

 In response to calls by some for government to become more directly involved, President Ramotar said there are procedures that have to be followed as part of the collective bargaining agreement and once this is adhered to, “they can find resolutions to these problems”.

GINA further reported that President Ramotar said that money has been set aside to improve the laboratories, library facilities and general infrastructure, as part of the need to lift standards to make it world class,” he stated, “therefore we have to have a stronger teaching corps, more lecturers with masters and PhDs to be lecturing”.