By IVAN CLIFFORD
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad – The cash-strapped University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) is to send home nearly 300 non-academic staff as part of the efforts to restructure the operations of the tertiary institution, Education Minister Anthony Garcia has said.
“Information from University of Trinidad and Tobago states 59 academic staff are to be dismissed, 57 of which already received dismissal letters. In addition, 287 non-academic staff are expected to be dismissed. Discussions are still ongoing between the Oilfield Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) and the UTT,” Garcia told the Senate on Monday.
Garcia said that as part of the negotiating process, the union has been requesting certain information that has been provided to it.
“However, I’ve facilitated three meetings in an effort to bring both parties together and at the last meeting I held between the union and UTT, the union had requested some additional bits of information.
“The UTT is now treating with that information and I’ve been assured that in the not-too-distant future that information will be relayed to the union,” he told legislators.
But the main opposition United National Congress (UNC) has described the dismissals at the UTT as “harsh, repressive” and contrary to good industrial relations.
Opposition legislator Rudranath Indarsingh, a former trade unionist, told reporters that the UTT should explain the criteria used in dismissing the workers.
“The actions are harsh, oppressive and contrary to the principles and practices of of good industrial relations in this country.
“What is the status of performance management appraisals within the organisation and whether details of staff loading modules have been completed and how was it measured? And also what module was used, what criteria was used to terminate staff…,” he added.
Labour Minister Jennifer Baptiste- Primustold the Senate that “information from UTT states that with regards to the academic staff, they’re not deemed to be workers under the (governing) act which requires reporting to the ministry.”
The law mandates that job cuts over five must be reported by employers to the ministry and Baptiste-Primus said the government has in place the National Employment Service “where employers register with us and unemployed/retrenched people are invited to register with the Labour Ministry.
“We’ve also opened a National Retrenchment Register to capture more accurately the number of people retrenched in Trinidad and Tobago, as the act states an employer is only required to inform the Labour Minister if that employer is retrenching five or more workers. Under five there’s no requirement.
“So we invite those retrenched to visit our offices and they’ll be given the necessary assistance and guidance where possible.”
Earlier this month, Garcia defended the UTT decision to send home more than 30 academic staff members, saying that their retrenchment would not affect the operations of the tertiary institution.
Garcia said that it became necessary to dismiss the lecturers because the UTT is overstaffed.
“The University of Trinidad and Tobago is involved in teaching as well as research so that the computation of individual workloads has to take into account both teaching and research output,”.
“After a thorough analysis of the staffing at UTT and the workload of lecturers, those who have been scheduled for termination are surplus to the requirements of the university to provide the same level and quality of service and programmes that currently obtain,” he told legislators.
In their letters of dismissal dated May 11 and signed by UTT Vice President Human Resources (Acting) Leah Ramgattie, the lecturers were informed “as you are aware, UTT is undertaking a restructuring exercise.
The letter issued served as a 45-day notice of the termination of their respective employment by reason of redundancy.
In addition, the retrenched workers were expected to receive a severance payment based on the framework outlined in the Retrenchment and Severance Benefits Act.
Earlier this year, media reports said that at least 287 members of staff, including academics, were to be retrenched as the university moved to save at least TT$41.5 million.
The affected lecturers have since said they intend to legally challenge their dismissal. – CMC