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The Government and NAGRAT's Strike Action
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Opinions of Monday, 30 October 2006

Columnist: Mensah, Opanin Kwabena

The Government and NAGRAT's Strike Action

The strike action by a section of Ghanaian teachers bring into focus issues related to our labour laws. I am concerned if our laws permit an employer to pay salaries/wages of striking employees. Were the NDC MPs paid when they boycotted parliament and stayed in the streets? What about the doctors and nurses when they went on strike? Would the government pay the striking teachers? If striking employees continue to draw their salaries/wages then there is something wrong somewhere and the attorney general must do something about it.

One of the most important tools for discouraging strike actions is non-payment of salaries/wages. If an individual stayed away from work for a number of days and was not paid he would think more than twice before embarking on such an action the next time. Perhaps NAGRAT is running its mouth of continuous and sustained strike action because it knows that its members will be paid. If NAGRAT were to pay its striking members one wonder how long it would stay out of the classrooms.

One thing I have come to like about the American system is its rules and regulations regarding labor and strike action. In December 2005, members of the Metropolitan Transportation Workers Union of New York (representing workers of the railways and buses) resorted to strike action as part of their bargaining strategy to compel their employer to respond to their demands. They did not stay for more than three days even though they had threatened indefinite action. As late as October 2006 they were yet to get a new contract and they dared not go on strike again. This is because the system took care of them.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) (their employers) went to court and argued successfully that the action was illegal. The court ordered them back to work and followed it up with a fine of $1million for any day they stayed out of work. The striking workers lost pay for the number of days they were out. The president of the union was also tried, found guilty and spent same days behind bars. Their employers withdrew the contract it had earlier offered but rejected by a narrow margin. The union wants that back but MTA is calling the bluff. The only option available to the union now is to meet MTA at arbitration. The union dreads this so they continue to work without a contract. If there were similar rules and regulations in Ghana, industrial actions would be limited to some few days.

The National Association of Graduate Teachers (NAGRAT) embarked on a strike action at the beginning of the 2006/2007 academic year to demand that they: 1. Must be paid the same salaries as nurses and doctors who have similar qualifications

2. Must be granted a separate Bargaining Certificate from GNAT to enable them negotiate directly with their employers, the Ghana Education Service (GES)

3. Two children of each Graduate Teacher must be given fee-free education to the tertiary level

4. The current Director General of GES must be removed, because he has exceeded the retiring age

5. That unless these demands were met, they would not go to the classrooms to teach

NAGRAT’s pronouncements and demands have exposed their nefarious action and selfish interest. They have undermined their own agenda and are now the laughing stalk of reasonable Ghanaians. How on earth would they expect to be treated quiet different from others by demanding that two children of each Graduate Teacher be given fee-free education to the tertiary level. What if doctors and nurses asked that their children be given similar number in medical and nursing schools; while police also make same request for employment into the Police Service; university lecturers and administrators follow with similar request for their wards; what about farmers requesting that all their children be given 2% of gross sales of all governmental earnings in agricultural produce; may be civil servants do not have children. As Ghanaians, who are their “two children”?

If they had really thought through their request that they must be paid the same salaries as nurses and doctors who have similar qualifications they could argue to the admiration of all and won the sympathy of Ghanaians.

First they could commend the Government for recognizing the additional burden carried by doctors/nurses and the subsequent financial emolument given to them. NAGRAT could then argue that its members also carried allowances and therefore wanted the government to: a. increase their allowances based on a criteria set out and then b. convert them into salaries so they too could enjoy reasonable pensions. The writer sympathized with NAGRAT (“Paying Teachers” Ghanaweb Feature article July 9, 2005) and had advocated the conversion of their allowances into salary so that it could impact positively on their pensions. Second, NAGRAT could ask the government to make extra classes compulsory for all grades and teachers’ salaries increased to cover the work to be done. This is productivity and compensation. Ghanaians would sympathize with NAGRAT this way.

NAGRAT would not want this to be touched because it was the last cash cow with which they had to “chop the government small”. Is NAGRAT saying that if there were no doctors/nurses they would not know that they had problems? Why would they have to compare themselves to another profession with completely different job training and assignments, risks and types of clientele?

Instead of NAGRAT advocating for better conditions of service it had rather declared war as captured in their president’s statement at Wa that: “they were prepared to go on with their strike for even one year in order to get the long standing injustice against the teacher addressed to their satisfaction and that even if the government increased their salaries by 100% the association would not call of its strike until the government carried out a total overhaul of the salary structure of teachers using the recently salary of health sector workers as the basis” (Ghanaweb, general news of Thursday October 19, 2006); and in their fifth demand that unless these demands were met, they would not go to the classrooms to teach

NAGRAT’s demand that it must be granted a separate Bargaining Certificate from GNAT to enable them negotiate directly with their employers, the Ghana Education Service (GES) underlies their naivety in the present democratic dispensation. Since the early eighties, NAGRAT had used this method without success. It could not get either Liman’s PNP, Rawlings’ PNDC or NDC’s administration to get the required Bargaining Certificate. What makes them think that Kuffour’s NPP would give it to them if the same method is being used? What prevents NAGRAT from going to court or lobbying parliamentarians? It’s time they learned how to get things done in their way or to their satisfaction.

In a situation of abject display of irrationality and insensitivity issues that otherwise would not be mentioned in public come to the fore. One of such issues is the open thievery and robbery of students, parents and the government by almost all members of NAGRAT. It is the government’s response to this disgraceful behavior that has compelled NAGRAT to resort to a strike action. This can be seen in the fact that they just wanted to be on strike for its sake.

Until the beginning of the 2005/2006 academic year majority members of NAGRAT had a field day at the beginning of each academic year. They connived with some irresponsible headmasters and duped unsuspecting parents. For a child to be admitted into a Senior Secondary School (SSS) a parent had to bribe a tutor in a school. Most of those tutors who took the bribes are members of NAGRAT. It was not common for a tutor to make up to 50 million cedis or more depending on the individual’s standing in the school. With the introduction of the computer system for selection of students into the SSS their source of income has been curtailed. Presently no one can approach any parent and take money for admission purpose. This they believed was the fault of the government and like Kutu Acheampong, since the “few amenities” they enjoyed had been taken away they would punish the government for it.

Incidentally their thievery did not end there. The new trend is extra classes especially for final year students. Under normal circumstances there is nothing wrong with teachers doing this for their students. I enjoyed it and wish it continues. What is wrong is using government properties and facilities to make business by charging the students for the service. For them to maximize their gains some of them either do not show up for their regular classes or do very little or nothing at all when they do. The result is that the students will be handicapped in their preparation for their exams. They would have no option but to fall on the teacher to help. The irony is that they do not pay taxes on this income. This is a classic case of bribery and corruption. Even at a time that they were supposedly on strike some of them were unashamedly conducting classes and taking money from their venerable students. Leaders of NAGRAT should look at Ghanaians in the eyes and deny this.

No responsible government would allow this to go on without appropriate response. If NAGRAT is refusing to negotiate and yet its members continue to steal time, facilities and utilities from stakeholders to sell their services to students, which to quote Jones Ofori Atta is kwasiabuo par excellence, I would advise the government to do the following:

First action is already in place - that is the invitation to NAGRAT to the negotiating table for the issue to be resolved. This is a good sign from the government. I had never liked the government’s position that it would not negotiate with NAGRAT. I do not understand why NAGRAT has also positioned itself as fighting for teachers but refuses to join GNAT on the same table.

Second, government should get court order to stop paying salaries of all striking teachers. You do not pamper a child who refuses to be reasonable in the face of all odds. With time their front will break and NAGRAT will be weakened.

Third, all striking teachers should hand over government properties in their care including the schools, their bungalows and rooms and any other government property in their care. No one gives ammunitions to his/her enemies to be used against him/her, apologies to Joe Appiah of blessed memory. They were given the bungalows and rooms on condition that they would teach students. If they were no more interested in doing it then they should give them back for their re-allocation to those who would replace them. This will give the government the chance to know how many are out.

Fourth, government should contract all retired able bodied and willing teachers to teach. In the same way all teachers who have been given administrative duties should revert back into the classrooms.

Fifth, government should withdraw all national service personnel on attachment to other agencies and direct them to the classrooms. In the case of primary/junior secondary schools government should recruit new SSS graduates who are waiting for their results and tag them as youth corps. Give them refresher courses in teaching during the December academic break.

Sixth, government should recruit any graduate from a recognized university who is willing to go and teach. In an emergency situation one takes measures that are likely to deal with the problem at hand. You may not have the solution but at least the situation can be contained.

The government should embark on a massive campaign to appeal to Ghanaians to be sympathetic to its course. It will not be appropriate this time to engage in unnecessary argument with those who have refused to co-operate. If the government does not handle this situation properly it will live to regret. The government should know that civil servants are watching with red eyes and opened paws like the wounded lion ready to pounce.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

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