Features — 18 October 2013 — by Adele Ramos
Why the “sneakiness,” UB management?

“Those who fail to sign [the contracts] will be removed from the October payroll!” – UB’s HR department

Faculty members of the University of Belize are up in arms over sudden changes to their employment contracts which, they contend, are stripping them of security of tenure without so much as a consultation with them.

The University of Belize has defended the move, saying in a press statement issued this week that, “Only faculty and staff who were already employed by the institutions prior to the merger of 2000 – the Bliss School of Nursing, the Belize Teachers Training College, the Belize Technical College, the Belize College of Agriculture, and the University College of Belize – were granted “permanent” status until reaching the official age of retirement.”

It added that, “All faculty members hired since the merger have been hired on the basis of annual appointments ‘to serve the University in a teaching, service, and research capacity’.”

President of the University of Belize Faculty and Staff Association (UBFSA), Allison Crawford, told Amandala that an unexpected faculty notice was released on Tuesday, October 1, listing about 40 lecturers who were being asked to report to Human Resources to sign their contracts by Saturday, October 12, or be taken off the end-of-month payroll.

Crawford recounts that they were told that they could not take the contract home, but that they had to read it in the office and sign two originals—one of which they were allowed to take with them after the signing.

Crawford said that because she is one of those persons who transitioned over from the amalgamated institutions, she was unaware of the changes until faculty members lodged their complaints with the association. Crawford told us that there was no consultation at all with the association.

Furthermore, she has indicated that none of these changes were mentioned at faculty orientation on August 5, 2013.

“Why the sneakiness, the way the contracts are being handled,” said Crawford, indicating that the latest conflict has bred mistrust of UB’s management.

Crawford said that when some faculty went over to HR, as directed by the October 1 notice, they noticed that the contract was only for one year (2013-2014). Currently, some UB faculty members who were taken on during the amalgamation process continue on tenure; however, the newer lecturers are employed under different terms.

The association president said that because of this, those members of faculty who signed were unable to get any legal advice before they did, and they have gotten legal counsel recommending that they write to UB’s management documenting that those contracts were signed under “duress.”

According to Crawford, there were instances where persons who had previously held open-ended contracts were pressured into signing the new one-year contracts.

For some faculty members who were already on one-year contracts, there was no change to the duration of their contract.

Another concern, though, is that lecturers cannot be considered “tenured” unless they have a doctorate, although the current terms allow them to work towards tenure with a Master’s degree, based on the current handbook terms, Crawford told us.

UB President, Dr. Cary Fraser, had indicated that he would look into the issues being raised. On Wednesday, Selwyn King, Head of UB’s Office of Public Information, confirmed that a series of meetings have been scheduled to discuss the matter further with faculty members. Those meetings are slated to start next Thursday, October 24, at the Belize City campus and conclude on November 15 at the Belmopan campus.

However, Crawford said that the scattered meetings appear to her to be a divide and conquer tactic, which the association will resist.

The association will begin to meet with faculty today to document their concerns and strategize, in order to formulate a comprehensive and formal position in advance of next week’s meetings with UB’s management.

She said that the contracts include changes to their terms and conditions, against the provisions in the faculty handbook. Those who did not sign are worried they won’t get paid.

Whereas Crawford said that faculty has not been given an assurance that they won’t be cut from the payroll for refusal to sign the new contract, King said that it is his understanding that no one is off the payroll.

King said that the changes should have been instituted 13 years ago—that’s how long ago the university was created via the amalgamation of five public tertiary level institutions: the Bliss School of Nursing, University College of Belize, Belize Teachers College, Belize College of Agriculture and Belize Technical College.

Whereas a faculty member had indicated that when the one-year contract was questioned, the HR staff said it was a board decision, the association noted that UB’s board had been dissolved since the end of August.

Incidentally, UB just this week released the names of its new board, which is led by Harrison Pilgrim, appointee of the Minister of Education, Youth and Sports (returning Board Member).

The other listed members are vice chairman – Steve Spiro, private sector representative for tourism nominated by the Minister; Anita Ack, representative, UB’s Association of Student Governments; Dr. Peter Allen, Chief Executive Officer, Official of the Ministry of Health; Jose Alpuche, Chief Executive Officer, Official of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Agriculture; Brenda Armstrong, representative, Council of Churches; Kerry Belisle, representative, UB’s Alumni Association; Joan Burke, representative, Non-governmental and Civil Society Organization; Gaspar Martinez, representative, private sector for agriculture; Luke Palacio, representative, National Trade Union Congress of Belize; Roosvelt Papouloute, representative, National Council for Education (returning Board Member); Deryck Satchwell, official of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (returning Board Member); and Dr. Sharmayne Saunders, representative, Association of Tertiary Level Institutions of Belize (ATLIB) (returning Board member).

As a point of interest, we have checked with at least two of these returning board members, and neither of them was able to substantiate the suggestion that the contract changes were directed by the board. One board member told us, in fact, that the information first became known via the news and the subsequent press release issued this week.

Amandala understands from a board member that the board is only customarily responsible for a few senior staff appointments; and that the others are really handled at the level of the President’s office.

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