The Bogota campus of the National University of Colombia returned to working normally on Monday, after over three weeks of strikes and lock-ins on the part of a disgruntled group of faculty members, who shut down classes and administrative services.
A deal reached Friday between university officials and striking staff members ended what protesters had called the “Permanent Assembly” that had taken over the Bogota National University campus, barring entry to grounds and facilities and forcing the school rectory to close classes and services at Colombia’s largest public university.
The Assembly — composed of teachers, administrators and staff — were protesting the university’s alleged non-compliance with agreements made to end a previous strike last March.
Complaints from the most recent labor disputes centered around a promised pay-rise that – according to the protesters – had not yet been implemented, and alleged “reprisals” taken against organizers and participants of previous strikes. The teachers also complained about years of “neo-liberal” national education policies that have allegedly downgraded labor security for university employees, as well as being responsible for the $5.8 billion budget deficit of Colombia’s public university system.
The protests, described as a “forceful takeover” by the University Rector, involved various clashes between public and university security forces, and the staff members barricading various parts of the campus, including central administrative buildings and entrances. Early negotiation attempts failed amid heated rhetoric, and the university eventually referred the matter to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, which is currently investigating whether measures taken by staff members were legal.
Weeks of closures and alleged damage to facilities have had “numerous and grave consequences” on the University and its students, according to the Rector’s office.
Administrators managed to save the current semester, announcing a new school calendar over the past weekend to make up for the missed weeks of classes and a cancelled certification exam schedule. But many students who depend on the school for food and housing have had to absorb the costs of the closures, and the extended semester will mean additional spending for both the student body and the university, which also claimed its international reputation had been damaged after it had to return or transfer the 123 foreign exchange students it was hosting prior to the strike.
Protesters, meanwhile, accused the school administration of turning the campus into a “battleground”, and failing to fulfill prior commitments, or recognize legitimate, democratic grievances, which they say are supported by a majority of the student body.
According to a spokesman for the Pro-Salarial Improvement Committee, the faculty group behind the disturbances, university officials agreed to four main points in Friday’s deal, which brought an end to 24 days of campus unrest:
- To fight for wage increases for faculty in the 2014 academic budget, set to be determined later this fall
- To reverse allegedly punitive measures taken against various organizers and participants in an earlier strike
- To guarantee no similar measures would be taken against anyone involved in the most recent strike
- To address the cases of 160 staff members reportedly seeking to be upgraded to ‘career’ status, a legal term in Colombian labor law that guarantees benefits and advancement options for public service employees
The negotiations were mediated by the Minister of Labor.
As of Monday morning, all reports indicated a successful transition back to normal at the National University’s Bogota campus.
- Official National University Communications
- Official Website of the Pro-Salarial Improvement Committee
- Trabajadores y directivas de la Universidad Nacional firman acuerdo para levantar el paro (Caracol Radio)
- Se llego a acuerdo para levantar paro de la Universidad Nacional (RCN)
- Mas de 120 extranjeros de intercambia afectados por paro de la U. Nacional (Caracol Radio)
- Quien paga por el paro en la Universidad Nacional? (El Espectador)