In response to demands from both the West Indies Group of University Teachers (WIGUT) and non- academic staff that he answer their questions, Sankat who was in his office eventually came out and obliged.
The non-academic support staff is represented by the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU), which is backing its members’ demands for more than the six-per-cent wage increase proposed by the university.
Sankat told the protesting groups that on Wednesday evening, he received an assurance from Tertiary Education Ministry Fazal Karim that over $80 million would be handed over to the campus, so the professors could receive their backpay in two payments—one at the end of March and the remainder at the end of June.
Sankat explained the $80 million is money already owed to the university by the Government for the provision of services to students who have access to Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses (GATE). In fact, Government owes the university over $200 million.
“Clement in he office hiding, hiding from workers,” was first chanted outside the gates leading to his compound.
Someone then said the back gate leading to the compound was open, and lecturers and support staff all gathered there.
One by one, the protesters filtered in until a campus security officer told them not to do so, and this led to both groups of protesters flowing through the gates, but stopping at the entrance of the principal’s office.
From there, the chants became louder and more vociferous. Bells were rung at the entrance of the office and trumpets were blown. More security gathered but held their hands as the protest remained a verbal one. Campus security officers also form part of The UWI’s non-academic staff.
WIGUT president Dr Russel Ramsewak reiterated WIGUT’s position that in mid-2014, the university gave them assurances their backpay would be paid to them by December 2014, and since this had not happened, they were unwilling to express any faith in the new set of assurances that had been given by the principal this week.
Before going onto the compound of the principal’s office, Ramsewak had addressed his fellow protesters.
“WIGUT signed a memorandum of agreement on June 24, 2014, and in that agreement, the arrears for the period August 1, 2011, to the period July 31, 2014, was to be paid by September 30, 2014.”
He continued, “Cognisant of the funding considerations and the challenges ahead, the university asked WIGUT to agree to a memorandum of understanding, which stated in further recognition of the challenges faced, the parties agree that retroactive payments to be disbursed as soon as funds have been advanced by the Ministry of Finance but not later than December 31, 2014, but with no payment being made by December 31, 2014, it is acknowledged that the university had breached its agreement.”
He continued that during their last meeting on January 20, 2015, “an oral proposal was placed for the payment of the arrears to be paid in two tranches, the first being in March and the second in June.”
“We have since been communicating by a signed document from the campus registrar, confirming the oral agreement, and this is what the campus principal correctly reported to all staff, but what the principal did not say is that when the campus registrar wrote to formally make his offer to WIGUT, he made it clear that the offer was conditional, in that it was subject to the receipt of these promised payments…promised by whom?” Dr Ramsewak asked.
Ramsewak continued, “This offer is thus not a firm offer, and what has been given is a conditional offer to possibly pay in March and June.”
Ramsewak added, “The fact is that WIGUT already has a breach of agreement, both in the memorandum of agreement and memorandum of understanding, which indicated a clear, fixed date for payment, and I remind you was December 31, 2014.
“WIGUT takes no comfort in getting a conditional offer at this time, and WIGUT demands a firm offer be placed on the table for consideration and WIGUT is giving them one month to comply, which is Friday, January 30, 2015, and failure to do so with this extension will lead to WIGUT embarking on other various courses of action to press for its rightful benefit.”