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UTech blames ministry for back-pay hold-up

Published:Saturday | October 26, 2019 | 12:12 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer

Failure to pay over outstanding funds to University of Technology academic staff in a near-decade-long salary dispute triggered strike action at the Papine-based institution yesterday, but the administration has blamed the Government for being tardy in disbursing the funds.

President of the University of Technology, Jamaica Academic Staff Union (UTASU), Lebert Langley, told The Gleaner that staff would stay off the job until they were paid.

According to Langley, the outstanding sums were due to be paid in three phases. The first was implemented in July, the second was slated for the end of October, and the third component due in April-May 2020.

The staff took weeklong industrial action beginning April 30 this year to get a resolution to Item 41 of the heads of agreement of 2015-2017.

The union boss told The Gleaner that the proposal was placed on the table by the university’s management on May 15, and staff accepted the terms a day later with a proviso that the wording, “around September” be more specific.

Langley said the union counterproposed that it expected the payment to be made by the end of October – a definitive date.

He said that at the end of September, the staff did not receive any communication from the university, and so the union issued correspondence on the 30th of said month reminding them of the commitment.

A response to the letter was not received by the union until October 24, after the academic staff had been paid.

“Not only did they disregard the agreement that is on the table, they went ahead and paid, and they said nothing. There was no communication, despite us writing and providing notice since the 30th of September,” said Langley.


He accused the administration of showing utter disregard to staff in an issue that has been lingering since 2010.

“We expect persons to be accountable, and when you provide your word, we expect you to follow through on your word, and we don’t expect persons to respond to written communication 24 days later,” the UTASU president lamented.

The university’s president, Stephen Vasciannie, stated in a press release yesterday that his May 17 letter to the UTASU president outlined that retroactive payments would be made within a month of receiving the “appropriate support from the Government of Jamaica”.

He continued: “The university has not yet received the relevant sum from the Government of Jamaica, and so we are not in a position to make the retroactive payment. We will continue with our efforts to obtain and disburse this sum as early as possible. I remain committed to dialogue with the leadership of UTASU in pursuing good and satisfactory outcomes to ensure that our priority obligation to our students is not compromised.”

Acting minister with responsibility for education, Karl Samuda, said his administrators were working to resolve the problem.

“The ministry is going to be undertaking a review of the entire structure as it relates to arrears and current expenditures that they have to meet for staff salaries, and so on. But I have to go into a meeting to determine exactly the position we are in at the moment, and that will, of course, be followed by a discussion with the Ministry of Finance,” Samuda told RJR News yesterday.