UTech hit by protest

FRUSTRATION boiled over among ancillary, technical and administrative staff of the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech) in St Andrew on Friday morning as those workers staged a protest demanding better pay and treatment on the job.

The protest prevented many, especially the new students, from conducting important business at the institution on Friday. Scheduled classes were still held for the most part.

Janette Grayson, president of the University of Technology, Jamaica Administrative Staff Association (UTASA), apologised to the affected students but said the staff have crucial issues that need to be addressed. She declared that until those issues are addressed, protests will continue.

“School started last week and it has affected our students badly, and we truly apologise. I am sure that students would have left from far in St Catherine and other parts of Jamaica today, but up here, three salary levels fell below the minimum wage when the Government announced the new minimum wage. Many of these are people who work in the sun — they don’t work in air-conditioned offices.

“All the staff, including academic staff, went to management in 2019 and said we were being paid less than our counterparts at The University of the West Indies and other institutions that are similar to us. We said we wanted parity with all these groups. In 2019 the Ministry of Finance and our management paid our academic staff. In 2023 our management went ahead and compensated our executive management staff. They received 70 per cent parity and they also received their retroactive pay for parity. This group — ancillary, technical and administrative staff — has been agitating for our piece of parity, and we were told that we cannot get this right now because they have no funds.

“We went to the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Labour this year, and the Ministry of Education. The Ministry of Finance asked us to prepare a proposal as it relates to this parity arrangement. On Tuesday our management met with the Ministry of Finance and they called the unions and said that we have an option to give up this parity for the compensation review to come, which we already have. Why should we give up parity for it? The staff is irate; they feel disrespected and are not feeling good about it,” Grayson told the Jamaica Observer, demanding that parity be paid by the end of September and that retroactive payments be made before then end of 2023.

As the disgruntled staff protested, one of them shared they are forced to watch lecturers and others upgrade while administrative, technical and ancillary staff suffer.

“Administrative staff like me get less that $2 million per year. That looks good on paper but it is not good in terms of what I actually get in my account. Pay has been late on a number of instances, probably since COVID-19. There has been a lot of changes in the payroll department; most of the people are new. Academic staff went and changed out their cars and all sorts of things and we are here operating as if it is business as usual. What is even worse is that it seems only academic staff are being promoted,” said the staff member.

She added: “There was a time when [you could] take $20,000, at least, and go to the supermarket; I can’t do that now. That is crazy. The salaries for the academic staff, without any increases, are fine. Regular academic staff get around $3 million to $4 million per year; deans of faculties get up to $10 million. If we were to go back to the 2019/2020 annual report, the management salaries at that time would shock you; there were some senior academic staff who were getting more than the president. The president got somewhere in the region of $12 million and $14 million, [while] there were senior academic staff that got like $16 million to $17 million annually. There were some senior administrative staff above us, one or two of them were getting close to $19 million,” the staff member claimed.

Another frustrated member of staff lamented that cost of living is increasing everyday and said their pay can barely support them and their familes.

“Some of us have cars and we can’t do any repairs, buy parts, or anything. Petrol prices are rising and our income is not — we can’t even go to the supermarket. The academic staff can change their cars but we can’t; it is the same beat up car we have had for many years. I have been trying to live within my means but it is a struggle. If I were to get a little bit of increase, because I am so disciplined, I would be on easy street,” the staff member said.

“Some of the managers come out here with us pretending to show support, but they don’t care; they got their raise. Just imagine administrative staff getting $2 million per year and you have children going to high school and university, plus you have a car and you have bills to pay,” the staff member said.

Some students who were affected by the strike told the Observer they agree that the staff should get fair pay and treatment.

“I am a first-year student. I don’t have classes on Fridays; however, I am supposed to register for a prerequisite course and I can’t get to register because of the protest. They deserve better treatment but at the same time others are inconvenienced. I saw two people at administration desk and they couldn’t tell me anything,” one student said.

Another student complained she came to school to use the library but couldn’t. “It was closed. I didn’t see anybody to talk to. The library online broke down and the physical library is closed,” she said with a look of frustration on her face.