USP staff unhappy with VC, but he thanks them for ‘engagement’

University of the South Pacific vice-chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia
University of the South Pacific vice-chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia speaks to students and staff during an earlier protest in his support at the Laucala campus. The same staff who backed him then are now unhappy with his "leadership style". Image: Fiji Times/File

By Felix Chaudhary in Suva

University of the South Pacific staff who once stood by vice-chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia are now up in arms about his role in a decision by pro-chancellor Dr Hilda Heine to disallow a staff paper to be placed on the agenda of the 96th USP Council meeting being held today.

A joint press statement by the Association of the University of the South Pacific Staff (AUSPS) and the University of the South Pacific Staff Union (USPSU) said the blocked paper was in relation to “many unresolved issues faced by the staff over the period 2021 to May 2023”, which included pay and other matters.

The unions said staff from across the region met on November 22 and “are aggrieved and angry at the refusal of the PC (pro-chancellor) and VCP to allow their voice to be heard at council”.

“This is the same VCP that  the staff stood for in his hour of greatest need,” the unions said.

“The same staff who took risks to ensure that he was given worker justice and the opportunity to prove his worthiness of the VCP position.

“That he was a likely party to a decision to disallow the Staff paper is indicative of VCP’s leadership style which has become very clear to staff.”

The unions said USP management refuse to discuss or negotiate a salary adjustment for 2019-2023 and the final course of action was to bring the matter to the council for resolution in preference to industrial action.

What the VC had to say
In response to queries from The Fiji Times, Professor Ahluwalia sent a message he had issued to USP staff.

In it, he thanked them for joining him in a staff discussion which had a “record number of staff who attended with a high level of engagement.

“Whilst we have made considerable progresses, some issues remain outstanding,” the VC said.

He said USP now had a budget that would be presented to the council for approval today.

“Despite the alarming situation concerning declining student numbers, we have managed to ensure no redundancies, albeit, we will only be able to fill 30 per cent of our vacancies next year.”

Professor Ahluwalia said in terms of salary adjustments, the university had “made a great deal of progress, with two salary increases in October 2022 and January 2023 and an increment/bonus for all staff in the middle of the year (2023), and provisions have been made for another salary increase next year subject to council approving our 2024 budget.”

Questions sent to pro-vice chancellor Dr Hilda Heine yesterday remained unanswered.

Felix Chaudhary is a Fiji Times journalist. Republished with permission.

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