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Varsity labour unions threaten strike ... Over alleged varied conditions of service

BY: Emmanuel Bonney
Prof. Solomon Nunoo (middle), National President, UTAG, addressing the news conference. With him are Dr Beth Offei-Awuku (left), President, Ghana Association of University Administrators, and Sulemana Abdul-Rahman, Chairman, Teachers and Educational Workers' Union. Picture: Maxwell Ocloo
Prof. Solomon Nunoo (middle), National President, UTAG, addressing the news conference. With him are Dr Beth Offei-Awuku (left), President, Ghana Association of University Administrators, and Sulemana Abdul-Rahman, Chairman, Teachers and Educational Workers' Union. Picture: Maxwell Ocloo

Four labour unions in the public universities have called on the government to immediately rescind its intention to vary their conditions of service.

Failure to do that, they said, would compel them to withdraw their services — teaching and related activities — from Wednesday, October 5, 2022.

The four unions are the University Teachers Association of Ghana (UTAG), the Ghana Association of University Administrators (GAUA), the Tertiary Education Workers Union of Ghana (TEWU-GH) and the Senior Staff Association of Universities of Ghana (SSA-UoG).

Presser

Speaking on behalf of the unions at a news conference in Accra yesterday, the President of UTAG, Prof. Solomon Nunoo, said their working conditions had been overly varied on their blind side, with the intention of a selective application of the same conditions unbeknown to them by the employer.

"The labour unions took notice of a letter from the Ministry of Finance on the revision of fuel allowance payable to eligible staff in public and technical universities dated August 5, 2022, and signed by the Deputy Minister of Finance, Abena Osei-Asare,” he said.


He also referred to another letter from the Ministry of Finance dated March 16, 2022, on the subject: “Allowances Payable on the Payroll of Public Universities”, signed again by Ms Osei-Asare and addressed to the Director General of the Ghana Tertiary Education Commission (GTEC).

Prof. Nunoo said UTAG had since written two letters to the Minister of Finance and the Executive Secretary of the National Labour Commission (NLC) dated April 11, 2022 and June 15, 2022 and copied to the Ghana Tertiary Education Commission (GTEC) seeking "clarification on the basis for the unilateral variation in the conditions of service of university teachers and by extension all workers of public universities without the laid down procedures for negotiations”.

Response

“Unfortunately, UTAG did not receive a response from the Minister of Finance; and again response in respect of NLC’s directive, where the NLC gave the Minister of Finance seven working days to respond, was to no avail.

“In UTAG’s previous letters, UTAG stated unequivocally that per the signed Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) between the employer and UTAG on June 16, 2021, the employer agreed to review fuel allowance bi-annually with the approved rates and the first date review should have occurred in December 2021, but did not happen in spite of the reminders sent to the employer,” he explained.

Prof. Nunoo said contrary to the MoA under reference, the Minister of Finance, per its own letter dated March 16, 2022, again directed that fuel allowance and other allowances that depended on ex-pump price for fuel, which was, hitherto, pegged to number of gallons had now been converted and determined in absolute rates without recourse to any of the labour unions in the public universities.

“Thus, we totally reject this absolute rate as the procedure for taking such a decision was not followed and the status quo should remain until agreed at a negotiation. Again, the employer ignored the concerns of the unions,” he said, adding that “after a long delay in respect of the bi-annual review, the Minister of Finance, in a letter dated August 5, 2022, gave approval for the adjustment of ex-pump price of fuel and, consequently, the unit cost pegged at GH¢10.99 per litre with effect from July 1, 2022, for all eligible staff after more than a year of the signing of the MoA.”

The UTAG President said, “it has come to our knowledge that, henceforth, there is going to be disparities in the implementation of this adjusted ex-pump rate, which is contrary to the existing practice, notably for Vehicle Maintenance and Off-Campus Allowances.

“The disparities here being that it is going to be applicable only to duty bearers of our universities. This action is not only unacceptable but creates a class system, like the famous George Owel’s Animal Farm and discounting that the other members of staff and the duty bearer both go to the same marketplace,” Prof. Nunoo said.

“We wish to put on record that the Vehicle Maintenance and Off-Campus Allowances, payable to eligible staff in public universities in Ghana, are paid on a base rate of GH¢4.99 per litre until June 2021 when it was adjusted to GH¢6.05 per litre. So, what has changed for this blatant disregard for the agreed laid down procedures,” he said.

According to him, the intended reversal of the recent upward adjustments from GH¢10.99 to GH¢6.05 was just not reflective of the economic conditions at the pump and, therefore, unthinkable for the government even to conceive such an idea to do so.

UTAG and her sister unions, he said, would wish to entreat the employer to thread carefully so as not to mar the already jeopardised tertiary education front, saying the labour unions would not countenance such fragrant disregard of agreed modalities of conditions of service.

Strike

Prof. Nunoo said following the suspension of the UTAG Strike action in March 2022, the National Executive Committee of UTAG promised to monitor and police the full implementation of all agreements with the government, and to work with clear timelines and roadmaps to ensure that all promises and agreements were respected.

However, he said, it was sad to note that there were still challenges with the implementation of the Online Teaching Support Allowance, while non-payroll allowances were still outstanding.

“This situation has made the university teacher worse off in the face of the present precarious economic situation we find ourselves in, and yet the employer is bent on derailing the little gains achieved,” he said.

Again, he said, the unions had observed that the implementation of the GTEC document on Harmonised Allowances had made several university administrators and professionals worse off, which was against the labour laws, and that “this requires urgent attention for redress”.

“Lastly, the payment of the Book and Research Allowances (BRA) for this year has delayed. This continued delay is also causing unnecessary apprehension on the various campuses. The employer should remember that we are in a new academic year, for which reason the continuous delay in the payment is unacceptable.

“Per the agreement that led to the suspension of the UTAG industrial action, the 2021/2022 BRA were slated to be paid at the end of August 2022. Unfortunately, to date, they have not been paid. The constant follow-ups have only yielded evasive excuses, and typical of the reactionary and less proactive leadership style, all the relevant ministries and their heads, including Finance, National Security, Education, and Employment, and the National Labour Commission are looking on, and waiting for us to explode before they act,” he lamented.