Student Strikes at the University of Guyana

This is now old news, but I am responding to several requests by our readers; I also find it interesting how similar events have been echoing throughout the Caribbean and, indeed, the world.

In late January and early February, student strikes and a “sit in” at the University of Guyana (UG) were backed by the UG Students Society, the UG Senior Staff Association, and the UG Workers Union. Other dates were also set for a major strike—February 27-29—but it was canceled following an agreement reached between the UG administration and staff. These negotiations were spearheaded by Labour Minister Dr. Nanda Kishore Gopaul. Before the negotiations, because some students and staff were not aware of the reasons for the strikes, Dr. Mellissa Ifill (Department of Social Studies), Vice President of UGSSA, wrote a letter listing the main concerns. In the letter, she explains that the demands include rescuing the university from political interference, opposing victimization of staff members on the basis of their political views, and fighting for better working conditions and fair salaries.

Dr. Ifill gives a detailed account of the situations that prompted this action. One of them has to do with bias, unaccountability, and lack transparency. One example she gives is the termination of contracts for 4 lecturers: Patrick Williams, Frederick Kissoon, Claudius Prince, and Loris Bancroft. She writes, “Following the terminations, the Council indicated that while new contracts (part time) could be issued to Dr. Williams, Mr. Bancroft and Mr. Prince, Mr. Frederick Kissoon’s must not be employed in any capacity in the future at the University. Mr. Kissoon as I’m sure you know is a well-known critic of the government and this action smacks of political victimisation. [. . .]. For me as an academic, what makes this action VERY troubling is the fact that the rationale for termination, that is, poor performance, was not a consequence of an evaluation from his academic peers but the evaluation of government appointees, who have no qualifications themselves to evaluate Mr. Kissoon’s work and performance.” She follows this with several examples of hiring irregularities that have “aroused fears of ethnic and political discrimination among some at the University.” The bottom line is that, as in the case of the University of Puerto Rico, the UG is demanding more transparency.

The letter goes on to list a series of appalling conditions at the university–unhealthy and insufficient toilet facilities, poorly ventilated, poorly lit, and filthy classrooms, lack of space, and lack of resources (such as paper, ink, photocopying machines, and lab equipment). Apparently, a loan was negotiated between the Government of Guyana and the World Bank to rehabilitate the Science and Technology labs, but it has not yet been signed by the Minister of Finance. Ifill says, “If the loan agreement isn’t signed speedily, the University will lose the US $10 million.”

Other demands are related to the salaries paid to staff: “Do you know that our cleaners are paid between 19 000 and 25 000 dollars per month?! This is below the minimum wage. Some have been working at the University for as long as 13 years and are still temporary – that is they are given a contract every three months.” This means that they cannot qualify for basic health insurance and other benefits. Meanwhile, she says, lecturers’ salaries are also abysmal—way below those in Guyana’s public and private sectors with similar qualifications and experience—thus creating a large number of problems that lead to an ineffective or insufficient education.

Following negotiations, the parties have agreed to discuss the implementation of guidelines for putting the US$10 million World Bank loan to good use and to review the salaries, wages, and terms and conditions of employment of university staff, especially at the Turkeyen Campus. No agreement has been reached regarding the termination of contracts.

[Many thanks to Peter Jordens and Don Walicek for bringing these items to our attention.]

For full letter, see http://www.uog.edu.gy/?q=notice/message-all-university-guyana-students

For news on the agreements, see http://www.guyanatimesgy.com/2012/02/26/ug-strike-called-off/

Also see http://caricomnewsnetwork.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=6638:guyana-classes-disrupted-at-guyana-university-demonstrators-demand-improved-conditions&catid=54:latest-news

Photo (of 2011 graduating class) from http://www.guyanatimesinternational.com/?p=11737

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