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UG students demand lecturers end strike; contemplate legal action

UGSS President, Joshua Griffith (in blue shirt) flanked by other members of his organisation’s Special Committee that has been negotiating with unions and the UG administration for a strike to be called off and classes to resume.

The University of Guyana Students Society (UGSS) on Tuesday demanded that lecturers end a month-long strike and resume pay negotiations or legal action could be taken.

Representatives of the UGSS declined to divulge the grounds for planned legal action, but the UGSS Representative on the Council, Elsie Harry said the students’ legitimate expectation for classes has not been met.

“With regards to the contractual obligations between the Vice Chancellor or the administration and the students, the contract that we are going on is the contract that has always existed: We pay our tuition, you provide us with ‘ this’.

Secondly, when there was the increase in tuition fees, we paid our tuition fees under the guidance that your increased facilities were going towards improved facilities on campus so in our minds the contract never changed, it’s just that the administration never held up to its side of the bargain,” she said.

While no hint was given about whether the unions or the UG administration would be sued, the UGSS Special Committee stated categorically that they were supporting the workers’ quest for increased pay and improved working conditions but they do not want to be severely affected. “The actions taken to represent their cause is affecting students and that is where we need to draw the line and show or highlight the effect on students,” said UGSS President, Joshua Griffith.

The UGSS wants the workers to return to work for five days- Monday to Friday- and resume negotiations, but if they fail refer the matter to conciliation. The Workers Union (UGWU) and Senior Staff Association (UGSSA) have rubbished such a formula, saying that they would return to classrooms only after a reasonable offer has been made and talks for an additional increase are held and concluded within a specific time-frame. The unions, which are demanding a 60 percent increase, say they have no fate in the negotiating process that dates back to 2012 and in their view the talks have already collapsed with the Vice Chancellor, Professor Jacob Opadeyi’s withdrawal of his offer and cancellation of talks until the strike is called off.

Harry rebuffed suggestions that the UGSS “jumped ship” and abandoned the workers and the unions. “From the beginning, we have made it clear that we are not supporting the strike action but we support the cause of lecturers…The UGSS always said that we support the fact that pour lecturers deserve to be paid higher, that the conditions at the University of Guyana need to be fixed. We are not involving ourselves in method to choose to display these grievances. We are just saying that the method that they have chosen currently is not the one that we prefer since we are not having classes,” she said.

The students’ representatives described efforts to clean the washroom facilities, improve drainage and ventilation as “cosmetic” but prefer to return to classes pending the immediate completion of remedial and maintenance works.

The students complained bitterly that the one-month long strike is resulting in higher accommodation, transportation and other costs due to the inevitable extension of the semester. “This is a crisis of national importance,” said the UGSS President.