Industrial action looming at university
Industrial action could be imminent at the cash-strapped University of the West Indies (UWI), Cave Hill Campus, St Michael.
A senior official of the campus told Barbados TODAY that a unilateral decision to withhold increments for all staff for the academic year 2015-2016 had been made by the university while negotiations were still ongoing with the Barbados Workers Union (BWU) and the West Indies Group of University Teachers (WIGUT), the staff’s representative on campus.
In a memorandum issued yesterday, campus Registrar Kenneth Walters said that the university’s administration was currently in negotiations with BWU and WIGUT on the issue of withholding staff increments.
Walters said the proposal was made to the unions in June 2015 and the university’s administration was now having a meeting to reach an agreement.
“In the meantime, increments due in 2015/16 have been held until an agreement is reached,” Walters wrote.
In previous correspondence to the BWU dated July 27, 2015 Walters had acknowledged that BWU General Secretary Toni Moore-Bascombe was out of the island and that salaries would be maintained “at the current level” until a meeting was convened and a decision made on the university’s proposals.
But the irate senior staff member who spoke to Barbados TODAY on condition of anonymity described the development as untenable.
“How can UWI make a decision to withhold increments when the staff’s representative has not yet met with them to thrash this out? This is happening against a background where there has been no general salary increases for the past seven years here,” she said.
The senior staff member noted that other staffers appreciated that the university was looking at cost-cutting measures, but said while the administration was seeking to put a hold on increments, about 50 promotions had been made between February and August. “This is a mess that has been dropped into the lap of the new principal Professor [Eudine] Barriteau when she has not been part of its creation,” the official stated, while remaining adamant that the unilateral decision on the increments could likely lead either to strike or other industrial action.
Repeated efforts to reach Moore-Bascombe at her office and via cellular phone today proved futile. When contacted Walters declined to comment and referred Barbados TODAY to the UWI’s public relations department.
In a release late this evening, the university reiterated that it was currently “negotiating” with the two unions.
“The campus has proposed to the unions that staff forego an increment expected for 2015/16 as their contribution towards maintaining the solvency of the institution.
Owing to financial challenges, this increment was not paid for the current month of August in which salaries were paid later than scheduled. The campus has offered to pay the increments for the months of August and September on the September payday, the statement said.
“Meanwhile, the campus looks forward to continued negotiations with the unions regarding its increment proposal which, if accepted, would be introduced in October.
“The campus’ administration is aware that the withholding of increments is entirely voluntary and cannot be implemented without the agreement of colleagues at the institution.”
Further investigations by Barbados TODAY confirmed that UWI staffers were not paid their salaries on today’s due date but were expected to be paid before the end of the week.
In offering an explanation to the UWI’s financial straits, the senior staffer told Barbados TODAY that up to August 25, registration at the Cave Hill Campus was below 4,000.
“This is a significant drop from the over 8,000 students that were enrolled up to a year or two ago, prior to the implementation of Government’s policy of students being responsible for 20 per cent of the economic cost of their tuition,” she said.