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Updated: UG strike officially called off; classes to resume Tuesday- unions

The unions of the University of Guyana (UG) today called off all forms of industrial actions following the signing of two agreements with the university’s administration.

Classes and other operations that had been affected are to commence on Tuesday, March 3, 2014.

This development effectively brings an end to more than five weeks of industrial action, which included marches, picketing, sit-ins, and more recently, a full-blown strike.

In a press statement released this afternoon the University of Guyana Senior Staff Association (UGSSA) and the University of Guyana Workers Union (UGWU) explained that “the first agreement details the terms under which our members will return to work,” while the second, dubbed the “Interim Offer Agreement” (IOA), “outlines a 10% interim pay offer” payable at the end of March, and which will be retroactive from January 2015.

This agreement also outlines a timetable for continued negotiations, which is to commence in seven days, as the unions have made clear their intentions to continue to push toward the 60% increase initially demanded.

As a result of the actions which had been undertaken by the unions the university had all but ceased to function normally. The release noted that the signing of the agreements ushers in “the end of a very protracted period of industrial unrest that ultimately resulted in a virtual standstill at (UG).

During a consultation with staffers Monday morning UGSSA President Melissa Ifill was greeted with thunderous applause from both academic and non-academic staff after she told them that from all indications the end of their plight seemed at hand.

“We have demonstrated that we are strong, resilient, and are prepared to engage in actions to further our cause,” Ifill told the staffers. And, even as the staffers were on the brink of celebrating what seemed to be an imminent victory, she charged them to “remain vigilant,” and to report any instances of victimization.

Ifill also pleaded with the staffers to not victimise any academic or non-academic staffers who chose not to support the various industrial actions in word as “it was their right to do so.” Not all were in agreement with Ifiill though. “They should not get none of the 10% because they ain’t go through the struggle,” remarked one non-academic staff member, to which several other staffers nodded and otherwise indicated similar sentiments.

Ifill, however, said that all staffers should indeed benefit from the rewards to come, while expressing optimism that the gains made may convince them to participate if there is a need to take industrial action again.

And General Secretary of the Guyana Trade Unions Congress (GTUC), Lincoln Lewis, says the option of striking again must indeed always be left on the table. In an invited comment Lewis told the staffers that he was impressed with the leadership demonstrated by Ifill and assured the staffers that, in his opinion, “your business is in good hands.”

Finally, Lincoln praised the union for successfully negotiating a non-reduction of salaries for hours not worked, explaining that this sets a precedent for other unions to follow.

The vast majority of the university’s staffers started the semester with a sit-in following a failure to meet an agreement with the administration on a proposed wage-hike and additional benefits during the break. Several factors, including a decision by the administration to pull back its negotiating team in light of the unions’ refusal to call of industrial actions during negotiations, triggered an intensification of such undertakings. 

The unions said in a joint statement that they had maintained from the beginning, that they were forced to first sit-in and then to strike as a result of a series of events, detailed below.

 
       
  1. The collapse in negotiations between the UG administration and the UGSSA/UGWU on salary and non-salary benefits following the cancellation of the negotiation meeting scheduled for January 15, 2015 by the University of Guyana Council on January 14, 2015;
  2. The attempt to impose a Workload policy without any attempt to get the input of the academic community and the UGSSA;
  3. The refusal of the University to negotiate with the University of Guyana Senior Staff Association – the Union long recognized by the UG Administration as the legitimate representative of the academic staff.

In response to these events, the Unions demanded that:

  1. The UGSSA must be recognized by the University Council as the bargaining unit for UA academic and non-academic staff and that the university must negotiate with a joint UGSSA-UGWU team.
  2. The UG Negotiating team must be given the remit and negotiations must recommence with both Unions (Achieved).

Demands 1 and 2 were satisfied with a statement by the University Council on January 30, 2015 that, Councilhas instructed its Negotiating Team to resume its engagement with the UGWU and the UGSSA, without pre-conditions or undue delay”;

  1. The workload policy document must be withdrawn from Council and face the academic community and negotiations with the UGSSA before approved by the University Council.

Demand 3 was partially but satisfactorily achieved. Although the document was not withdrawn from Council, it was agreed that the policy would be considered for approval only after consultations were conducted. The VC’s office then outlined a timetable of consultations with faculties, academic board and the Unions – This timetable must be rescheduled due to the cancellation of faculty boards and academic board meetings during the month of February;

  1. A reiteration of our complete Memorandum of Demands and a 60% increase in salaries for 2015 or, an interim salary increase offer for 2015 and a schedule for continued negotiations BEFORE we returned to work.

This demand was satisfied with the signing of the Interim Offer Agreement and the Terms of Resumption Agreement.

These agreements underscore our standing as important stakeholders at the University of Guyana. The five weeks of industrial action was about more than money, benefits and improved working conditions for staff, though these were all extremely important matters that have been pending for over three years. The industrial action was also about: demanding respect for our work and sacrifice (not just manifested in monetary terms); resistance to dictatorial impositions from either the Council or the VC; insisting that tertiary education must be a national priority; and demanding better education for our students.

The Unions and the Administration recommence negotiations within 7 days. In other words, this is just the beginning of the process.  We thank all those who have supported us through this very difficult period, and we hope that you will continue to support us as we work to improve conditions for all at the University of Guyana.  We will honour our obligations under the agreement, but we also expect that the administration will attempt to do the same in good faith.  Rest assured that University of Guyana faculty and staff will ensure that we finish what we have started during the past five weeks.