UTAG Strike; Govt has acted appropriately

BY: Arku Jasmine

Deputy Minister of Education, Samuel Okudzeto AblakwaThe government says it has acted appropriately in addressing the grievances of striking university lecturers across the country.

Speaking on Accra-based Joy FM, a Deputy Minister of Education, Mr Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa said the government has done nothing wrong in directing members of the University Teachers Association of Ghana (UTAG) to complete negotiations with the Fair Wages and Salaries Commission (FWSC) with regard to their book and research allowances.

He explained that when the issue of book and research allowances was raised, government directed the leadership of UTAG to complete negotiations with the FWSC and whatever the outcome would be, it (government) would foot the bill.

“So government really did nothing wrong, we have acted very appropriately, very fairly to all the unions and we honestly did not think that this issue should have broken out into a strike because it was premature and negotiations had been going on at the FWSC and government had never said that we will not pay book and research allowances,” he said.

UTAG, on August 1, 2013, embarked on a nationwide strike to demand the payment of their interim market premium arrears for 2012 and 2013 owed them by government.

The lecturers also demanded the payment of their book and research allowances, usually paid at the beginning of an academic year, and the correction of an anomaly in the book allowance paid to polytechnic lecturers and university lecturers.

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Although the government has released the market premium arrears of GH¢25 million to the lecturers, they have resolved to stay out of the classrooms until the research and book allowances due them were paid.

Mr Okudzeto Ablakwa further explained that the disparities between the book and research allowances had arisen because of the shortfall in polytechnic lecturers’ salaries, thus the book and research allowances were pegged higher to address the shortfall in their salaries.

He, however, noted that the Single Spine Salary (SSPS) had addressed all those anomalies, thus it was left with UTAG to engage the FWSC to address that anomaly.

Imminent closure

The strike which has lasted some 20 days could result in the closure of some universities which have resumed academic work since per their statutes, per their statutes, the universities are to close down if academic work stalls for 21 successive days.

However, the deputy minister has given the assurance that that would not be the case since government was awaiting some positive news from the leadership of UTAG who were set to hold a consultative meeting with its members Wednesday.

“At least we expect to hear from the UTAG leadership after their general consultations today because we have put before them a certain proposal which for obvious reasons I will not want to make public now. But we expect that after these consultations they should be able to return to us with some positive news indicating that they will call off the strike.

“We can assure parents and students that the University of Ghana will not be closed. At least that is not on the cards now; the rules are being relaxed for the UTAG consultations going on to be completed later today,” he said.

Mr Okudzeto Ablakwa expressed his appreciation to the Association of Vice Chancellors Ghana for intervening in ensuring that the lecturers returned to the classrooms.

“I have spoken to the Vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana, Prof Ernest Aryeetey and he has given us assurances that the university will not be closed down,” he said.

“Those who will understand the history of what has gone on will agree with government that indeed government has done what is right all along. Closure of the universities should be totally out of the question so we have secured commitment that that would not happen.

“We are quite confident that the universities will not be closed for the academic year. We are hopeful that the discussions which the UTAG leadership is holding with its members across the country will yield positive results because government has shown a lot of good faith. We are quite confident that things will go according to plan,” he added.

Meanwhile the president of UTAG, Dr Anthony Simmons says it wants to see genuine commitment on the part of government to pay their outstanding allowances.

“If not, then we will continue the strike,” he said in an interview with the Daily Graphic.

By Jasmine Arku/graphic.com.gh/Ghana