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Opinions of Monday, 25 July 2016

Columnist: Nuku, Erskine Dziwornu Agbafle

Union strikes in Ghana and the tale of preferential treatment

Teachers protest to government Teachers protest to government

The way labour unions disparage their grievances in Ghana is very preposterous and at times mind blogging. Based on this, the government always have his way as the unions are left to their say.

The government of the day always employ antics as the unions demand their fair shares. At times the executives of the unions are the key players of the demands of the people. The softer they are, the least the government pays attention to their plights. Some of the executives I belief are in bed with the government of the day, and should it be so the workers ride their scrapes. But some of the unions other than their executives are very serious or show so.

Between 2001 and 2012, teachers had their way and bluffed because there was no embargo at any sector of the public job market because of the strong economy and a huge private sector contributions as a result of the introduction of the Private Partnership Programmes (PPP). Therefore the government paid much attention to them because a lot of them moved to other sectors either than teaching resulting in high teacher deficit.

But the story changes from 2013 to 2016 when the IMF advised the government to cut down its high wage bill because of the breakdown of the economy and a retrenchment was introduced. This was done by laying embargo on the public job market and the least private sector contributions cannot absorb the already “Unemployed Graduates Association of Ghana (UGA).

Therefore teachers - especially were afraid to lose their jobs and were timid to protest as the introduction of certain bad policies to tame teachers and also put much fear in them to safeguard the government of the day being ridiculed.

Some of these stroppy and wicked policies includes a compulsory SSNIT registration, several headcounts, and working for a whole year and be paid only three months and the new introduced monthly validation of teachers before being paid.

All these in the so called name of checking and cleaning “GHOST” names from the payroll. Defaults of any of these amount to you not paid for that month. Yet the executives sees nothing wrong with these policies. What they could do to help the situation is to come out with a new ranking system of which you cannot attain to the highest rank if you have started work today as a teacher at the age of 18.

Even study leaves for teachers have been extended to 7yrs from 4yrs. The fact of the matter is that, the teacher needs not upgrade him or herself. Incremental benefits for laborers took almost 4yrs contrary to the provisions on their appointment letters that, incremental benefits comes on every 1st September. These, the executives sees nothing wrong with. What happened to our 10% Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) that is added to our monthly salary?

The executives here sees nothing wrong with the cancellation of teacher trainees allowances and the introduction of one year internship(national service) programme; which will not help the new teacher in any way unlike the in-in-out menteeship programme that have safeguarded and equip the mentee with professional skills from the more experienced teacher.

When the government told them they have rather substituted the allowance with the increase in the intake to curb teacher deficits, they are happy.

They’ve not thought of the negative impact in the next three years where the system will be steadied and more teachers could not be posted as it is happening to the nurses today. What this mean is that:

a) The current teacher deficits will be closed within three years of operation and where will the professional teachers be posted? (as in the case of the nurses)

b) The fate of those doing distance diplomas will be bizarre as they cannot be absorbed into the system since the regular teachers from colleges are also waiting.

c) The issues of unemployment of the youths will again augmented in terms of “pupil-teacher” programme which will be abolished to make way for absorbing teachers from training colleges.

d) The fate of teachers from private colleges will be undisruptive because they will automatically opt for private schools because there is no vacancy in the “Psytho” schools.

Because of these ingrained of the government, the teachers from colleges will have to apply for employment as teacher, if accepted the teacher is then posted.

My little question is: what if the application is not accepted?

This is how the executives of the labor unions in Ghana strive for their members (I may be wrong):

Teacher Unions: GNAT, NAGRAT CCT, ITA, CETAG, UTAG, TEWU AND POTAG) They will start their agitations in the first week of the academic term by sending a petition to the government: “pay us our arrears”, “review our incremental benefits”, “increase our car maintenance allowance”, “pay our research allowance” etc. else we will go on strike in October.

In October, they will come out with a press release citing their line of action for the intended strike or organize a press conference, cladded in a white shirt with a beautiful black executive suit with a colorful neck or bow tie. Which serious fighter will dress like this?

They will resound their gripes and granted a lot of interview to the press on the air waves. You know teachers talk a lot? The government will not even mind them because they are rather enjoying their parleys.

Three weeks to their vacation, they will again release another press release claiming they are going on strike on the vacation day and then call on the government for negotiations. The government this time will meet them in a long negotiation.

At the end, the government will sway them to change the date to the resuming date of the next academic term. The unions think the government is stupid, but the government knows the unions have no teeth that’s why during their meetings, the government will serve the executives with a cup of tea with a well-studded, well-toasted and lip-smacking short breads with eggs.

This continues till the executives go on retirement without an increase in car maintenance allowances, because the governments knows teachers don’t even own bicycles. It is only their executives.

There is no arrears because the vacation holidays are well calculated and deducted by controller and accountant-general.

No research allowance because the government thinks their research is unreliable, viable and not usable to them. Because the cabinet is the research cache of the government of the day.

The government also knows that no seriously distressed worker who needed a hoist in his or her paychecks will dress in a white shirt, a beautiful neck or bow tie accompanied by an executive suits, simply that person even have enough to share.

Public Utilities and Commercial Workers Union (IWU, AGI, PUWU)

These groups are good at chanting war songs and organizing demonstrations for a whole day without result. May be they took precepts from the teacher unions who only talk without actions; wear white clean shirts with executive suits and writing bunches of releases because they are actually from the “chalk and talk fraternity” won’t help them.

The government fears this people more because if you sack them, there will be an increase in the already rampant “illegal connections” on the public utility sector causing more than a proportionate loss of financial gain to the country.

Wearing red arm bands and wearing red and black attires, will assemble at the gate of their workplace and chant war songs to scare the government. As the workers are chanting and demonstrating, their executives are on the negotiation table with the government dragging issues. For them if they are not satisfied they leave abruptly and ask their workers to intensify the chants.

The government knows that, singing in a sweltering sun will drain your system within hours therefore adopt the antics of engaging the executives in a protracted tussled negotiation.

The hullabaloos from the aggrieved workers will then starts to diminish for the day as the worn-out chanters leave one by one to their offices or home from the ugly hands of the blazing star.

They continue the next day, for their aphorism “never say die until the bones are rotten” till government heed to their entreaty.

Health Workers Unions (GMA, NMC, Paramedics)

I actually like the gait of these unions. For them, they are devoid of writing press releases and lengthy negotiations. Should the government sack them, they are not perturbed because they already have their own theatre, logistics and equipment and better medicines in their private hospitals or clinics.

Most often, when you go to the hospital you may be lucky to be told the doctor will be coming soon. Doctors when not planning strikes come to work early but when planning one, the story is different.

Comes to the hospital very late and walks swiftly to his office. You would be encouraged by the nurses that consultations will soon begin whereas she actually know what is in the limelight.

You will be lucky to see the doctor coming out minutes later with his bag moving towards his car, a signal enough.

At times, the doctor gets into his office and stayed for a very long time, may be writing reports. Should you enter and asked “Doc we were waiting for you”. His answer will just be simple “We are on strike!”

In an hour when you tuned in to a midday news on TV or radio, you will see one of their executives being interviewed about the strike, or declaring strike.

The government then moves in expeditiously, call the executive for a short negotiation of surety.

The next morning, the doctors are back to work: they have been satisfied!!!

Judicial Service Unions (JUSAG)

This is the second most subtle unions in Ghana. They hold the lives of innocent, criminal and nation wreckers to ransom when they are on strike.

This is another serious union who are also like the health unions. But the only difference is that before you get to the court premises that morning, you will be surprised to see about ten (10) high security padlocks in the small iron gates. And more seriously you even see the Judges, Magistrates etc. of those courts stranded at the gates and so no one to turn to.

Seeing some of the Judges making series of calls should not surprise you. When you approach them and ask what is going on, their surprise answer will be “They are on strike!!!” My simple question is who is the “THEY”? They simply pretend they are not involved in the strike action just because they are one arm or organ of the government.

One disturbing part is that, a check on your summon letter tells you to appear in court that particular day, or your case is actually adjourned to that day.

The executives of this union stays at home without any public notice or press release. At times they prefer switching off their phones to prevent anybody calling them to work and prefer watching TV to see if the government will call them to the negotiation tables.

Loudmouth journalists will then take the mantle to call on the government to call them for negotiations. Quickly the government moves to check if really there is an industrial action and organize a press conference to call on the executives for negotiations. At times very difficult to get their executives on phones and this takes days to have a successful negotiation.

Surely they will also be satisfied that day.