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Union rejects UWI’s pay, benefits cut plan


A proposal by the management of The University of the West Indies (UWI) for the reduction in emoluments and benefits to staff across its campuses has been dismissed by the West Indies Group of University Teachers (WIGUT) “in no uncertain terms”.

WIGUT is the trade union which represents and promotes the welfare and interests of The UWI’s academic, senior administrative, and professional staff.

In a letter to its members dated June 15, 2020, a copy of which has been obtained by the Jamaica Observer, WIGUT Jamaica said that it has rejected the university’s proposal in the same way its other branches across the region have.

According to the letter, the management of the university, through its vice chancellor, has proposed the UWI-wide suspension of several benefits for two years with no accrual when the period comes to an end.

Among the benefits are sabbatical leave, all study leave, all study and travel grants, all book grants, and all annual increments.

Up to press time yesterday, the university management did not reply to an Observer e-mail sent on Monday asking several questions about the matter following concerns raised by staff members to this newspaper.

“By now, I am sure you have been hearing rumours concerning a reduction, whether temporary or permanent, in emoluments (including leave, etc) and the possible lay-off of staff. I am writing to state WIGUT (Jamaica’s) position in respect of a proposal from the university management, through the vice chancellor, to the WIGUTs (at all campuses),” WIGUT Jamaica President Professor Paul Brown said in the letter.

“The WIGUT Jamaica negotiation committee has already met with the respective management teams at the Mona and Open campuses. At these meetings, WIGUT Jamaica stated, in no uncertain terms, that the proposal made by university management, through the vice chancellor, is rejected outright. The same message has been conveyed to the vice chancellor in a joint letter from the three WIGUTs,” Professor Brown added.

Yesterday, the Observer contacted WIGUT Jamaica for a comment on the matter and was told that “someone would return the call as soon as possible”.

Meanwhile, WIGUT Jamaica said that no negotiations are underway to reduce any emoluments, including benefits such as leave, currently enjoyed by staff.

“In fact, WIGUT Jamaica at no time agreed to negotiate with the university management concerning a reduction in any of the emoluments, including benefits such as leave, etc currently enjoyed by staff,” the president said.

Last month, The UWI’s Mona campus announced that it would be delaying salary payments to staff.

The university said the late payment of salaries was a result of its deteriorating financial position compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a notice from the campus registrar to all members of staff, the university, at that time, said: “The Mona campus is experiencing some challenges and is therefore not in a position to pay monthly salaries on Friday, May 22.”

The administration said it was working to have salaries paid by Wednesday, May 27.

In October, The UWI Vice Chancellor Professor Sir Hilary Beckles urged all campuses and regional headquarters of the tertiary institution to cut expenditures by 10 per cent over the next two years.

Beckles’ call followed a two-day retreat, which focused on The UWI’s financial condition and commitment to regional economic growth with a specific examination of the first two years of the university’s performance under its five-year Triple-A strategic plan, which started in 2017 themed ‘Revitalising Caribbean Development’.

This, after the university said that in the last two decades, the school has been challenged with rising levels of receivables from governments on account of the narrowing fiscal space associated with falling competitiveness and meeting International Monetary Fund conditionality.

The UWI said the impairment of these debts and other write-offs in the last decade have meant a considerable loss to the university.

But it said prime ministers at the Caricom Heads of Government Meeting in Haiti last year agreed to assist with an assets-for-cash swap to remedy the situation, which further motivated the university to accelerate its comprehensive austerity programme.

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