University of the South Pacific (USP) staff gathered outside the Japan-Pacific ICT Centre today to protest over better pay and conditions as well as calling for the removal of the regional institution’s vice-chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia.
The university’s main decision making body, the USP Council, is meeting at the Laucala campus this week.
Aggrieved employees of the university showed up in black, holding placards calling for “fair pay” and for Professor Ahluwalia to resign.
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The staff are unhappy after the USP pro-chancellor chair of council Dr Hilda Heine did not include a staff paper on the agenda of the meeting today, according to local media reports.
“The Association of USP Staff (AUSPS) president Elizabeth Fong said the paper included a submission on staff salary adjustment and a recommendation to recruit a new Vice Chancellor who is originally from the region,” according to Fiji One News report.
FBC News reports that the staff are calling for the “non-renewal Ahluwalia’s contract, claiming that he is no longer fit for the role” and that the vice-chancellor’s position to be advertised.
“Fong claims the VC is all talk and no action,” it reported.
The state broadcaster is reporting that USP staff want a 11 percent increase in pay and not the four percent they have received recently.
“We have staff shortages, vacancies which means people have doubled up and tripled up on their responsibilities. This is about keeping USP serving the region, serving its people,” Fong was quoted by FBC News as saying.
USP staff gather in numbers for peaceful protest pic.twitter.com/y4XA6EHYvC
— fijivillage (@fijivillage) November 27, 2023
‘We remain hopeful’ — USP
In a statement to RNZ Pacific, USP said its management “continues to work with the staff unions regarding their grievances” since they were raised earlier in the year.
“Through its meeting with AUSPS, the USP management has resolved some of the matters raised in the log of claims while discussion continued on the remaining issues.”
The university said that in October 2022, all USP staff received salary increments and the second increase kicked in in January 2023.
“Staff also received a bonus in the middle of the year (2023). Negotiations are continuing, and provisions have been made for another salary increase next year, subject to the Council approving our 2024 budget.”
The USP said the chair of the USP Council approved the council agenda, “and the USP management does not have a say in the matter”.
“As stated several times previously, the vice-chancellor’s relocation is decided by the council.
“The institution, as always, supports union rights and acknowledges that a peaceful protest is within its ambit.
“However, we remain hopeful that through USP management, we can continue to have discussions with the AUSPS about their grievances and follow proper channels to meet their demands until an amicable solution is reached,” it said.
This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ and Asia Pacific Report.