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Opinions of Monday, 6 December 2010

Columnist: Atiemo, Paul Obeng

Reflections On The Potag, Utag Strike

Following the loss of five productive weeks, it came as a big surprise hearing that the National Labor Commission (NLC) with Mr. Edward Biriku-Boadu, as the Executive Secretary, had been told by the courts that the industrial action embarked upon by the POTAG (Polytechnic Teachers Association of Ghana) was legitimate contrary to the NLC’s assertion.

To start with, we must ask ourselves why it took the courts to tell the Labor Commission that the course of the POTAG was legitimate and had to further appeal to POTAG to call off their strike as due process would be followed.

When the UTAG (University Teachers Association of Ghana) commenced its strike, one of the first statements that dominated the media scene was that, the industrial action as embarked upon by the UTAG was an illegal one and as such they ought to call off their protest.

Ironically President J.E.A. Mills intervened through the Prof. Asabre committee’s report presented to the President by Wednesday, 20th October, 2010 (which was just two days to the 21 days deadline after which the Universities would have closed down).

The Labor Commission, notwithstanding the initiative as stated above (involving the UTAG), stood their grounds and initiated court proceedings against POTAG on the pretext that their authority was being challenged per section 172 of the labor act.

It was sad indeed, to have heard the Executive Secretary of the Labor Commission a day after the court ruling, indicating that the judge was right and as such there is no need to appeal the judgment.

Truly, its uncalled for, that our leaders or persons put in places of trust, should make such mistakes ranging from subjecting an entire population (the polytechnics) through an unwarranted trauma, to the loss of 5 productive weeks which is tantamount to the popular ‘causing financial loss to the state’ law and political mantra.

Perhaps the state should quantify in monetary terms, the value of the 5 lost productive weeks for the POTAG and 3 weeks loss by the UTAG and I guess such ‘sunk cost’ incurred would have added a few more classrooms to the 175 constructed by the government as mentioned in the budget statement to parliament.

Should it always take the presidency to directly intervene in an impasse? Definitely not! Perhaps we are going directly opposite the inspirational statement made by the U.S. President Barrack Obama on his ‘glorious’ visit to Ghana, i.e. ‘…Africa does not need strong leaders rather, strong institutions’. I believe that, institutional heads must directly be made responsible for their actions and inactions and not to ‘robe inn’ other institutions in solving problems they have been tasked to perform. Until then, we shall remain stack where we are in terms of development.

Another issue of concern is, should the Executive especially the Education Minister be blamed, as advocated by a section of the Polytechnic fraternity? To me it’s simply NO!

Who knows, the Executive throughout the period opted to being silent (notwithstanding the backstage talks) seeking to guard against contempt of court or being prejudicial.

On the other hand, why did they (the Executive) listen to the misinformation of Mr. Edward Biriku-Boadu the Executive Secretary of the Labor Commission? Could they not have delved into the issue and unravel the truth just as was witnessed in the case of the UTAG?

Furthermore, the Labor Commission’s secretariat under the leadership of Mr. Edward Biriku-Boadu (the Executive Secretary) have in one way or the other failed the nation in his approach especially toward the recent strikes involving the POTAG and the UTAG.

Yes, it’s crystal clear without any taint that Mr. Edward Biriku-Boadu, the Executive Secretary of the Labor Commission in handling such serious issues as labor unrest has performed below average and as such must honorably resign for the sake of the high office he occupies.

I say this referencing a statement I heard him make on the 12th November 2010, post the court ruling, calling on the Labor fraternity not to lose trust in the Commission. By that, he clearly had forecast the impact of what they (the labor commission) had been involved in.

In any case, the core business of the Labor Commission as stated by the labor law is to mediate, arbitrate and not to adjudicate and so for the Labor Commission to shift its attention towards adjudication at first instance gives all such eeriness of concern.

Again, rather than talking closely with the protesting parties(in camera), adopting tact and persuasion etc. in resolving the impasse, he deemed it appropriate to engage the parties in a ‘media war’ which was counter productive and further heightened tension.

Infact, I challenge all concerned to survey thoughts on the level of trust that the labor force in Ghana have in the National Labor Commission and your results will not be far from mine.

For those who uncompromisingly castigated the UTAG and the POTAG, would attest to it that, to every action, there is a cause, but hey, the public might have reacted based on the manqué churned out by the National Labor Commission and so must not necessarily be blamed.

To my dear friends in the Polytechnics, let us continue to live by our ideals of ‘professionalism’ as we are known for, keeping trust in God and contributing positively towards nation building devoid of any sense of being let down and I believe that the Good Lord will Bless Us All.


Paul Obeng Atiemo
2006-07 GNUPS Secretary
paulaoben@yahoo.com