Every association or union has its objectives and interests which most importantly must be harmonised with the national interest.
My lessons from citizenship education from the basic school remind me of how every citizen in pursuance of his interest must consider not sacrificing the overall national interest. In the spirit of patriotism, innocent citizens must not be unfairly exchanged for one’s interest regardless how legitimate such interests may be – this is what POTAG has failed to consider.
The interest of GNUPS in this matter is to get our students back to the polytechnics to receive training. We have contracts both written and implied with the polytechnics to be trained. These contracts are given further weight by the 1992 Constitution of Ghana which grants every Ghanaian the right to education. Polytechnic students have kept our side of the bargain by paying all fees associated with our training, making ourselves available and following all regulations. It is therefore in our right to seek an enforcement of the contracts we have with our polytechnics.
Why GNUPS supported POTAG from beginning
GNUPS understands the demand for 2013/2014 Book and Research Allowance (BRA) as legitimate. There is no current arrangement that prevails over the BRA in law. Notwithstanding the fact that the BRA was paid in September some years past, GNUPS supported a strike in May this year by POTAG because unlike previous years the government had indicated that it was not going to pay the allowance for 2013/2014. Our common contention was that government has not opened any negotiation to have allowed it to vary such a condition. GNUPS was unhappy that government refused to invite POTAG for consensus building before deciding to change the existing arrangement.
POTAG informed GNUPS it (POTAG) was not conditioning suspension of the strike to payment of the allowance but rather a written commitment that will indicate a change of government’s position and a reasonable period for payment to be effected.
Interventions made by GNUPS
GNUPS has engaged in dialogue with all key stakeholders in this matter for solutions. The union petitioned the Speaker of Parliament, Chief of Staff, Council of State, National Peace Council, former Presidents J.J. Rawlings and J.A. Kufuor, Christian Council, National Chief Imam and other relevant bodies to intervene in the matter.
Series of public protestations have been made by polytechnic students under the auspices of GNUPS to win the interest of the public on the matter and to send signals to the world that the situation is so unfair to our students.
Government finally changed its position and came out with a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to be signed by parties as follows;
MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING BETWEEN GOVERNMENT AND THE POLYTECHNIC TEACHERS’ ASSOCIATION OF GHANA (POTAG) ON THE PAYMENT OF THE BOOK AND RESEARCH ALLOWANCE
The ministry of Education on the 23rd of July, 2014 convened a meeting at the Ministry of Education with the Polytechnic Teachers’ Association of Ghana (POTAG) under the auspices of the Minister of Employment and Labour Relations, Ministry of Finance, National Council for Tertiary Education, Chairman of the Education Committee of Parliament and the Fair Wages and Salaries Commission to discuss the way forward on the Book and Research Allowance and the National Research Fund.
Government resolved to pay the Book and Research Allowance under the existing arrangement for the 2013/2014 Academic Year with an agreement to reopen discussions on the operationalization of the National Research Fund for the 2014/2015 Academic Year and beyond
All parties resolved to ensure that payment of the 2013/2014 Book and Research Allowance is made within the next sixty days.
The parties also resolved that the exchange rate to be used for the Book and Research Allowance shall be computed in line with the average Bank of Ghana exchange rate.
By this agreement, NCTE is expected to immediately commence the process leading to the payment of the Book and Research Allowance.
That POTAG is expected by this agreement to call off its nationwide strike.
POTAG rejected the above MOU on the 23rd July, 2014 leaving the strike to persist for 29 more days now.
Just a day before the rejection of the above MoU, POTAG had agreed and signed to a resolution with the education committee of Parliament as follows;
That the arrears for the B&R Allowance for the year 2013/2014 academic year be paid as a matter of urgency.
2. That POTAG calls off the strike action upon approval of the amount for disbursement to its members.
3. That notwithstanding anything to the contrary, the payment of the B&R allowance be made within one month.
4. That leadership of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Education (PSCE) undertakes to facilitate the early disbursement of the approved amount.
5. That POTAG fully participates in all subsequent discussions/negotiations relating to the Book and Research Allowance.
This resolution, according to POTAG, was made and signed by the POTAG national president and the chairman of the PSCE with the view of signing a memorandum of understanding with government to end the strike. I leave to the judgement of readers as to what substantial difference exists between the two. Through its chapter President for Takoradi Polytechnic, POTAG justifies rejection of the MOU from the Ministry of education with the reason as;
“This MOU, POTAG saw as a complete departure from the resolution reached with the PSCE, especially paragraph 2, which seems to suggest POTAG has agreed to the implementation of the Research Fund and the scraping of the B&R, which we have stated over and over that it is a condition of service. As a result of this, and the Ministry of Education’s intransigence on their position, POTAG rejected the MOU.”
It is worthy of note that a strike action must not only be seen as a punishment to the employer, it must also be seen as an act that has a negative consequence on the Nation at large. One will want to be seen as working for solutions when a strike is declared. POTAG is making it appear as if their aim was to strike and not to find a solution. POTAG since 15th May, 2014 has not been seen to have even initiated a single effort towards the search for solution. Students have been running around seeking audience with stakeholders for POTAG only to be ignored at this time by POTAG when such a welcoming progress is made.
Other issues POTAG should consider
The situation currently puts the students at the receiving end of all the immediate losses of this prolonged strike action. POTAG recognising this should have restructured their strike to minimise the losses on students just as UTAG has done. They have by their conduct become more insensitive to the students, especially when they ignore our numerous appeals to relax the strike a bit even as we battle the matter together with them. Among the over 15 services they provide as lecturers, POTAG has only withdrawn the three that are directly provided to students. Go round the institutions and see for yourselves if POTAG members are not executing functions that support the administrative business of government. Who then is this punishment of strike directly meant for: government or students?
Besides the arguments of POTAG seem to suggest a possible breach of contract on the part of government so why not petition the courts to enforce their contract with government rather than sacrificing the students?
The Ghana National Union of Polytechnic Students (GNUPS) announced its disappointment on the sudden shift of demands by POTAG on the payment of their book and research allowance. The position of POTAG was the demand for a commitment from government that their allowances will be paid. GNUPS confirmed twenty eight days ago that government has rethought its stance of not paying the book and research allowance and has demonstrated this by issuing letters to begin the processes for payment.
The least polytechnic students expected was POTAG to introduce new conditions for meeting their demands which has prolonged the strike action to this time. Polytechnic students have endured enough losses already and have made much sacrifice which we expect our lecturers to consider. POTAG moved back and forth with its demands even to the extent of publicly conditioning suspension of the strike to an apology from a deputy minister for education.
Students have learnt our lessons and will change strategies in future. We feel much betrayed by POTAG.
God save polytechnic education.