WIGUT wants the $87 million be made by January 31 in one payout. However, UWI principal Prof Clement Sankat said a single payout is not possible. Rejection of the offer was made known to campus administration during a protest in which WIGUT members and the Oilfield Workers’ Trade Union (which represents the administrative, technical and support staff of the university) stormed the compound of the Campus Principal office through an opened side gate.
At the time, Sankat was meeting with Sir Hillary Beckles, UWI Vice Chancellor Designate. Along with campus Vice-Principal Prof Rhoda Reddock and Registrar Richard Saunders, Sankat addressed both WIGUT and OWTU members separately, after which he and Saunders were presented with copies of letters by WIGUT, rejecting the offer.
As a result of the impasse, lecturers have withheld semester grades to students who in turn have staged noisy protests this week. WIGUT president Dr Russell Ramsewak told reporters the offer was refused on the grounds that the payout in two tranches was conditional on Government releasing funds. “When the campus registrar formally wrote to WIGUT, he made it clear the offer was conditional and subject to the promised payment by the Ministry of Tertiary Education, Science and Technology. It is not a firm offer,” Ramsewak said.
In addition, he said, UWI has already breached its agreement made in June 2014 to pay the six percent increase in the payment for the period and subsequently breached another agreement to make retroactive payment by December 31.
UWI on Tuesday offered to make payments of the retroactive pay in March and June following the disbursement by Government of $100 million to the university from funds owed by the Government Assistance for Tuition Expenses (GATE). Government is to make available the sum of $50 million in February and another $50 million in May which will enable the university to make payouts in March and June respectively, Sankat said.
Sankat said Government owes the university some $200 million in accumulated tuition fees for nationals of TT. UWI had made an offer on Tuesday, Sankat said, and he expects that WIGUT would have responded to the Registrar by way of letter and not in the manner they eventually did. He reiterated that payment of arrears was not a line item for the UWI budget and funds in its budget are “restricted funds” for designated projects and expenditures.
Funds for arrears were negotiated with Government and other stakeholders, he said, after agreements were reached with their bargaining agents. After presenting copies of letters rejecting the offer, Sankat invited WIGUT executives to meet immediately with them and they accepted.
After this meeting, Sankat told reporters the offer to make payments in two tranches was without any conditions attached. The offer, he said, was final.
UWI accepts that the arrears were a liability but will pay it. “We will pay according to the guidelines in March and June,” Sankat said. He noted the $87 million was the largest back pay the university will have to pay out with some staff receiving sums in, “five figure digits.”
The six percent increase in salaries covers 2011 to 2014. WIGUT members began receiving their salaries with the six percent increase in September 2014.
The WIGUT, Sankat said, is to make its position or counterproposal known to the university administration today.
On concerns about international students registering, Sankat said the administration was issuing letters of comfort so they could receive funding from banks or governments in the absence of their grades.
The grades have been withheld by WIGUT members and used as a bargaining chip for the UWI to make the retroactive pay.
The university has an 18,000-student enrollment of which, Sankat said international students were few but regional students accounted for some 1,400.