Letters to the Editor

UTech lecturers have been patient since 2010

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

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Dear Editor,

I note the anti-union polemic by letter writer Fabian Lewis published in the Jamaica Observer on November 5, 2019. He is entitled to his opinions, and others more capable than I might respond to his piece. I must, however, respond to his complete mischaracterisation of the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech) issue.

The academic staff union (UTASU) has been trying to right a wrong dating back to 2010. At that time, compensation of secondary- and tertiary-level education professionals was adjusted to 80 per cent of market. UTech was the sole institution left out of this adjustment. One consequence of this was that government subvention to the national university was the lowest of any tertiary institution in Jamaica, and lower even than a great many secondary institutions. UTASU has sought since then to get this matter addressed. I'm sure if Lewis had been aware of this he would not have written as he did.

Finally, in 2018 an agreement was reached that would cover the period 2015-2017. Why not from 2010?

UTASU recognised the enormity of the sum that would be payable to its members, over $11 billion, should it agitate for full redress for the entire period. Further, recognising the burden such a sum would place on national resources, and that an even greater sum would be the result of further prolonged negotiations, it showed goodwill by agreeing to a period starting 2015, effectively “writing off” a much larger sum than it could expect to receive. That the 2015-2017 agreement could still be the focus of a dispute at the end of 2019 should tell us much about the tortuous path of the process.

Earlier in 2019 an agreement setting out three dates on which payments would be made and what period would be covered by each payment was arrived at coming out of meetings with UTech's management, the Government, and UTASU. This brought to a conclusion the long, tortuous process begun in 2010 — or so we thought.

The first payment was made on schedule in July 2019. The second payment, due October 2019, was not made, and here we are as a result.

The academic staff is neither capricious nor greedy. The academic staff is not sticking up the Government for money. It has been patient and mindful of the country's best interests.

While some might point out that students are not in class because of the academics' withdrawal of service, the truth is, they're not in class because the other parties to an agreement have reneged. That is the sole reason the academics are out. There is no other.

Michael Nicholson

Lecturer

University of Technology, Jamaica

mnicholson@utech.edu.jm


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