Wednesday, September 3, 2014

UTAG ends strike; But POTAG threatens another

Public university students will now heave a sigh of relief, following an agreement between the government and leadership of the University Teachers Association of Ghana (UTAG) to end UTAG’s month-long strike.
Yesterday, the government and the leadership of UTAG signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to end the strike which was to protest the non-payment of UTAG members’ book and research allowance by the government.
Seven-point decision
Under a seven-point agreement, the government has reaffirmed its resolve to pay the lecturers their book and research allowance under the existing arrangement for the 2013/14 academic year.
Briefing the Daily Graphic after the signing ceremony yesterday, the counsel for UTAG, Mr Charles Bawaduah, explained that by that agreement, UTAG was supposed to call off the strike immediately.
He added, however, that this would be possible after a meeting of the National Executive Council (NEC) before the end of the week.
He also said it was after that meeting that UTAG would officially call off the strike.
Explaining the details of the agreement, Mr Bawaduah said the two parties resolved to ensure that the payment started immediately and was completed by the end of the 2014 fiscal year.
He added that they also agreed that the exchange rate should be computed using the average Bank of Ghana exchange rate for 2013 and 2014.
“It was noted that the Ministry of Finance and the National Council for Tertiary Education have initiated the processes leading to the payment of the book and research allowance. UTAG is expected by this agreement to call off its nationwide strike action immediately to restore normalcy on all university campuses,” Mr Bawaduah said, quoting the agreement.
He indicated that the parties also agreed that the Fair Wages and Salaries Commission (FWSC) should negotiate UTAG’s condition of service with them, in line with the Single Spine pay policy, taking into consideration, the government’s policy to establish a national research fund.
The agreement, however, concluded that until the negotiations between UTAG and FWSC on UTAG’s conditions of service were completed,there should not be any variation in the conditions.
A similar meeting with the leadership of the Polytechnic Teachers Association of Ghana (POTAG) on Tuesday, August 26 2014, led to the association calling off its three-month-old strike.
UTAG embarked on the strike due to the non-payment of the book and research allowance to its members.
Currently, the book allowance stands at $1,500 per lecturer per year, while the research component stands at GH¢400 and there are reports that institutions that have nothing to do with research have been benefiting from the research allowance.
Beneficiary institutions
Such institutions include: The National Accreditation Board, the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Ghana Science Association of Encyclopedia Africana, and the National Board for Professional and Technical Examinations.
Dissatisfied with delays in resolving the impasse, the UTAG decided to go to the law court to compel the government to pay the allowance.
At a meeting with the leadership of POTAG last Tuesday, the government pledged to pay the book and research allowance to polytechnic teachers but UTAG said that was not the first time that the government had expressed its commitment to pay the allowance.
It, therefore, decided to continue the strike until the allowances were paid into members’ accounts.
Fresh POTAG strike
Meanwhile,  the Polytechnic Teachers Association of Ghana (POTAG) has threatened to embark on yet another strike if their August salary is not paid, a week after it called off a three-month industrial action, reports Mabel Aku Baneseh
“Our August 2014 salary has been frozen despite the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) we signed with government. We have given government up to this Friday, September 5, 2014, to pay us or we will not return to class beginning next Monday,” the Chairman of the Accra Polytechnic chapter of POTAG, Mr Jones Ntiamoah, said in a Daily Graphic interview in Accra yesterday.
POTAG embarked on a strike three months ago in protest over the non-payment of their book and research allowance.
This led to the closure of all polytechnics in the country.
Following this, the government also decided to freeze the salaries of the teachers after the Ministry of Education issued a directive to the Controller and Accountant General’s Department, ordering it to freeze the August salaries of the striking teachers.
The association, however, called off the strike after a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between POTAG and the government.
According to Mr Ntiamoah, a meeting was held yesterday at the Accra Polytechnic campus in consultation with the national executive and eventually arrived at this decision.
He expressed disappointment at the failure of the government to adhere to the terms of the MoU.
According to him, the said MoU indicated that the Book and Research Allowance for the 2013/2014 academic year would be paid immediately.
On July 14, 2014, the Human Rights Division of the Accra High Court declared that the strike embarked upon by the POTAG was legal.
Consequently, the court, presided over by Mr Justice Kofi Essel Mensah, directed the National Labour Commission (NLC) to enter a compulsory arbitration procedure provided for under Regulation 26 of the National Labour Commission Regulations, 2006 (LI 1822), with POTAG to resolve the impasse.
Accordingly, Mr Justice Essel Mensah said the NLC was expected to enter the compulsory arbitration within 10 working days with the leadership of the lecturers.
Polytechnic teachers began a strike from May 15, 2014 to August 31, 2014 to protest  the non-payment of their book and research allowance.
The strike led to the closure of polytechnics in the country after the 21-day period elapsed per the Polytechnic Act, which states that a school or polytechnic will be closed after 21 days of continuous strike by lecturers or students.
Victory for the rule of law
Counsel for POTAG, Mr Justin Pwavra Teriwajah, described the ruling of the court as victory for the rule of law.
He said the significance of the ruling was that the NLC had to watch every step it took in its mandate to resolve labour disputes since the courts would not condone misapplication of the labour law.
“The court’s ruling signifies the end of the days when the NLC would come out to declare a strike as illegal when no formal complaint has been lodged with it by the appropriate employer for the commission to delve into the labour dispute as a neutral quasi-judicial body.”
He indicated that he believed the ruling would keep the NLC on its toes and do justice to the numerous cases it might be dealing with.
Victory for future generations
In spite of the challenges that the ruling might have brought to students, the National President of POTAG, Mr James Dugrah, noted that it would go a long way to benefit future generations.
“If we do not ensure fairness and equity in the profession, generations yet unborn will blame us one day for not setting good standards,” he said.

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