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Garcia goes to Cabinet

Published: 
Tuesday, May 15, 2018
UTT retrenchment halted for now

The distribution of the 29 remaining retrenchment letters to University of T&T (UTT) academic staff was stopped yesterday until further notice. However, it does not mean the decision to terminate their services will be rescinded.

The T&T Guardian was told workers who were called on Friday to attend a meeting yesterday were again called and told the meeting was cancelled. However, a UTT staffer said no explanation was given. All programme leaders at the university were also yesterday called into an emergency “closed-door” meeting with management.

Subsequent to the meeting, UTT president, Professor Sarim Al-Zubaidy, issued a statement saying the board of governors was asked to “hold any further distribution of the remaining letters of separation to members of the university’s academic staff.”

Some 30 employees from the Valsayn and Corinth campuses were given termination letters on Friday, as UTT started the first phase of its restructuring exercise. A total of 59 academic staff members are targeted for retrenchment and UTT is seeking overall to retrench at total of 287 workers as part of a cost-cutting initiative.

Six of the retrenched staffers attempted to meet with Al-Zubaidy at UTT’s O’meara Campus yesterday, but were initially prevented from doing so by the head of security. However, after much persistence, Al Zubaidy finally came out to meet with them, although briefly, in the university’s hallway.

Al-Zubaidy explained that the criteria for separation of the academics was based on their teaching load, research and community service. But one of the retrenched employees argued that they had far exceeded the university’s expectations. Some of the employees believe Minister of Education Anthony Garcia is “being led to believe” they are not making sterling contributions to UTT’s operations.

Al-Zubaidy, in the correspondence, said the academic staff to be separated “come from varying programme areas and the university has gone to great lengths to ensure that there are no disruptions to the student body.”

“Students will be UTT’s number one priority and will continue to reap the benefits of excellent tutelage, as programme leaders and other assigned academics will provide requisite support/instruction to ensure that continuity, quality and excellence are uncompromised,” Al-Zubaidy said.

Speaking afterwards, two of the affected lecturers, Dr Kumar Mahabir and Solomon Ragnathsingh, said they were still not told whether the decision to halt the remaining letters meant their termination letters would be rescinded.

However, speaking on behalf of the terminated workers, Mahabir said they were in talks with their lawyers and union representatives and stand ready to take legal action if the issue is not resolved amicably.

Meanwhile, UTT staffers who reported for duty yesterday were said to be very “troubled” over the ongoing issue, as no one knows who may be next to go home.

“Those of us who have classes to teach today (yesterday) feel as though we cannot mentally cope with this. We are very fearful that we may be next on the list to go home. This is worrying, knowing that this morning we got up to report to the university and carry out our duties as usual, but on the edge as to what fate can befall us. It is a terrible feeling,” a staffer, who wished not to be identified, said.

Yesterday, Minister Garcia said he asked for the remaining termination letters to be put on hold as he expected to meet with Cabinet on Thursday on the issue.

Asked the reason, Garcia replied: “I am the line minister and I represent Cabinet and anything I have oversight of, Cabinet must have oversight and over any decision to be taken.”

He described the retrenching of workers as “simply a university trying its best to deal with its finances.”

Unions in solidarity with fired staff

National Trade Union Centre (NATUC) general secretary Michael Annisette has condemned what is happening at UTT.

“Austerity measures, wage cuts and putting workers on the bread line have been and will continue to a doomed economic solution. Economic growth without people-centred growth is a sure prescription for economic chaos,” Annisette said.

“Retrenchment, laying off of workers, cutting workers’ benefits and denying wage increases to employees only contributes to slowing down the economy,” he added.

Sanctuary Trade Union head Devant Maharaj also questioned the reason for job cuts.

“What are the hidden reasons for affecting the livelihoods of hundreds of citizens and thousands of students?”

He added that under the People’s Partnership government there were no planned mass firings during the 2010 to 2015 period.

Whilst academic staff at UTT is not represented by the Oilfield Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU), the majority union, other unions stood in solidarity with the UTT staffers.

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