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UWI student-staff want their money

BY KIMBERLEY HIBBERT
Senior staff reporter
hibbertk@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, November 17, 2019

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FAILURE to pay over salaries owed to student-workers at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, has sparked outrage from those affected, who have been owed monies from the summer.

In a letter sent to the Jamaica Observer written by 'The Voice of The UWI student staff', the author who has remained anonymous stated that “while the university climbs its way to the top four per cent in the global ranking, its student-staff are suffering” as a result of the non-payment of salaries.

“For years, students employed at the University of the West Indies, Mona campus have been enduring the inhumane condition of working without pay. Students are allowed to work a certain number of hours weekly, in various offices at the university. However, when they do, they are not being paid on time. They work for months and instead of being paid as the regular staff does, we have to wait four to five months after the scheduled pay day,” the letter dated October 29 read. “On the other hand, many of us worked for the summer and are yet to be paid. We are in the middle of the first semester of the new academic year.”

The letter continued: “You may ask, why? Because, after working, we are required to complete our time sheets that are checked by our supervisors and sent to the bursary for dispersal of payments. However, for some reason, when the forms get to the bursary, there's an endless delay. As a result, students have to visit the bursary's office to beg them, and on many occasions, we are told that our time sheets are misplaced or sent to the wrong team. After locating the time sheets, we then have to wait another two-three weeks to receive our salary.“

The anonymous student further stated that whenever students owe the university, they are barred from accessing the institution and a number of its resources.

“They are barred from sitting exams, unable to access their transcripts, deregistered and unable to graduate. It doesn't matter the amount, for students have been barred for owing less than $1,” the letter said.

The author further highlighted that in some instances, the non-payment of salaries had resulted in students being evicted and landing in debt trying to cover basic expenses.

“Those who can't endure the stress walked off the job and the ones who stayed have to then endure their landlords serving them eviction notices due to unpaid rent, borrowing money to buy groceries, lunch and paying travel expenses to school and work, by extension, daily,” the letter stated, adding that countless students were still unable to properly prepare for the new academic year as they did not have money to buy the required books and other stationery for classes.

Further, the author of the letter made an impassioned plea for a union to be formed that would lobby the concerns of students.

“The student staff of the UWI, Mona need a union to defend them and hold the university accountable, so if you're a union leader and reading this, please help us,” the letter stated.

The author of the letter went on to chide the UWI Mona Guild of Students for “trivialising” the issue instead of taking acting decisively on behalf of the students affected.

“They are on social media talking about it instead of acting. Despite knowing of the students' situations, they are asking the students to vent on social media to make it appear as if they are concerned. It is time the guild takes real actions rather than focusing on the optics. We are human beings, not puppets to utilise for PR stunts,” the letter said.

In relation to the social media posts, the official Twitter account of the UWI Mona guild had invited student-staff frustrated with the timeframe the university takes to disburse payments to participate in a Twitter chat on October 13. The invitation requested that affected students publicly state their issues and length of time it took them to receive their salaries.

“To know students are giving their time and have to wait a month before you get pay it's not okay. I work the entire September and I only got the first week of September pay in October,” one student stated on Twitter, to which the guild responded “we are extremely sorry you had to endure this long wait, we appreciate your feedback and we have duly noted your concerns. #YourGuildIsWorkingForYou”.

Another disgruntled student said, “A lot of times we don't get paid on time. It's not appreciated, especially when we have deadlines and responsibilities of our own to meet”. the Guild's responded saying they were working to mitigate the issues and apologised to the student for the delay in salary payment.

Other students replied to the thread of tweets saying, “you so lucky I wish I got paid any at all” and “one month, two weeks and counting”.

Further, a Twitter account belonging to the UWI Philosophical Society weighed in on the discussion, but criticised the Guild's decision to have a Twitter chat.

“The student staff of UWI Mona would like to know what you intend to do to address the issue of them not being paid on time. Talking on Twitter just won't help,” the UWI Philosophical Society tweeted.

This led to a brief back and forth between both entities with the Guild stating that the primary aim of its Twitter chat is to collate student responses that will enable them to bring forth credible evidence to The UWI administration instead of assumptions. The UWI Philosophical Society fired back by saying credible evidence would be in the form of a medium where student workers can contact the guild privately. The Philosophical Society further questioned what the next step would be and what the guild intended to take to the university's administration, to which the guild replied by saying the process has stages and the Twitter chat was the first step.

Moreover, in responding to the claims of non-payment of salaries, The UWI Mona Campus Registrar Dr Donovan Stanberry said the institution has identified the point of delay in the process and will rectify the issue immediately.

“Students are paid every Friday. Our standard process involves the submission of student workers' time sheets on a Monday to allow for the students to receive payments on a Friday of the same week. The process simply requires the submission of an appropriately verified time sheet. Unfortunately, this process has not always been scrupulously followed. We have identified the point of delay in the process. In keeping with our commitment to students and the value we place on their service, the UWI, Mona administration will be immediately addressing the matter of delays in the submission of time sheets to ensure that, going forward, these are submitted in a timely manner by the various departments. With respect to the sums outstanding, we will be immediately seeking to get all outstanding time sheets of departments to allow for payment of the backlog,” Dr Stanberry told the Sunday Observer.

Dr Stanberry went on to emphasise that students were the institution's primary stakeholders and in keeping with the university's commitment to improving students quality of life, opportunities are provided for them to access employment in various departments and their remuneration is also treated as a priority.

“We aim, at all times, to provide them with the highest standard of service with a view to making their experience, at the UWI as fulfilling and rewarding as possible — whether solely as a student or as a student worker. To that end, the first two items on the monthly local payments report are student payments and student refunds, indicating the priority this receives. To this end we have paid out an average of $10m monthly in the past year,” Dr Stanberry said.

He added: “The UWI is a student-centred institution, as such we are mindful of the disruptions these delays may cause and we are working tirelessly to address them in an effort to improve upon student workers' experience at the university.”


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