UTAG Declares An Indefinite Strike

You will recall that on 8th April, 2014, UTAG held a press conference at this same venue to express its position on and disappointment with Government’s unilateral decision to abolish the Book and Research Allowances paid to Academic Senior Members of the Public Universities and in its stead replace it with a National Research Fund. We made our position clear that UTAG is not opposed to the creation of the National Research Fund. However, UTAG’s position has been that the National Research Fund should not replace the existing Book and Research Allowances. It may be recalled that in that same press conference and subsequent explanations on various platforms, we justified the retention of the Book and Research Allowances based on the following reasons: That since the Book and Research Allowances are tied to the University Lecturer’s condition of service, and was introduced as a result of a collective decision taken by both Government and UTAG, its intended abolition cannot be a unilateral decision as such an action would have implications for the overall conditions of service of the university lecturer. That the existing Book and Research Allowances guarantee minimum and immediate research support across the board for all lecturers and research fellows. That early career lecturers and researchers in the public universities take advantage of the Book and Research Allowances to start their professional development and career in terms of the conduct of research, purchasing of books and other instructional materials, the subscription to academic journals among others. The intended abolition of the Book and Research Allowances will hurt the career development of such category of academics. That the reasons why the Book and Research Allowances were introduced in the 1995/96 academic year are even more relevant today than at any other time in the past, owing to large student numbers resulting from increasing enrolment at the public universities, which have increased the research/teaching burden of the lecturer enormously. That if government goes ahead with the proposed abolition of the Book and Research Allowances, it will have grave implications for the future of the public universities in Ghana. Following that press conference, UTAG sent a letter of intent to the National Labour Commission (NLC) to withdraw its services by April 15, 2014 if the Government did not take steps to start the process for the payment of the Book and Research Allowances for the 2013/2014 academic year and also rescind its decision to abolish the allowances. Subsequently, the National Labour Commission (NLC) issued a directive on 16th April, 2014 to both UTAG and the Government to go back and negotiate on the issue and report to it on May 14, 2014. UTAG complied and put a stay on its intention to withdraw its services with the hope that Government would demonstrate its commitment to resolving the issue. At the negotiations, UTAG provided official documentation to support its claim that the allowances are part of its condition of service as captured under: Section 9.13 of the Unified Conditions of Service for Public Universities in Ghana.” UTAG further provided a letter it received from the Fair Wages and Salaries Commission (FWSC) in response to UTAG’s request in 2013 for increment of the allowances. The letter which was signed by the Executive Secretary FWSC in the person of Mr Smith Graham stated that the Book and Research Allowances belong to Category II and III schedule of allowances and would continue to be paid at the existing rate until they were reviewed later by the Public Services Joint Negotiation Committee (PSJNC). Copies of both documents were submitted to the Minister of Education. Unfortunately, the negotiations ended in stalemate in spite of the documentation and evidence UTAG had provided to prove its case. Surprisingly, Government still insisted that it would put the money into the proposed National Research Fund. Both UTAG and the Government reported the botched negotiations to the National Labour Commission on May 14, 2016. Subsequent to that, the NLC ruled that the next step, as per the Labour Act 2003, Act 651 was for both parties to go for mediation to which UTAG complied. Although the National Labour Commission (NLC) had recommended that both parties should go for mediation, Government requested UTAG to opt for voluntary arbitration because of cost implications. UTAG, in a show of cooperation to resolve the matter, once again, obliged. The NLC nominated a sole arbitrator to arbitrate on the issue which UTAG was copied. Surprisingly, when the arbitration process was about to start, Government changed its mind and is now demanding, for the second time, a waiver of voluntary arbitration for compulsory arbitration without any tangible reasons. UTAG has also noted with concern, a recent press statement by the Deputy Minister in charge of Tertiary Education, Hon Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa that suggests that the payment of the Book and Research Allowances has not delayed because they are usually made in September. In a similar manner, the Hon Minister for Finance, Mr Seth E. Terkper, in his presentation of the 2014 Mid-Year Review Budget Statement to Parliament on Wednesday, July 16, 2014 announced that Government had established the National Research Fund with a seed money of GH˘15 million to replace the Book and Research Allowances (See page 45, under the subheading National Research Facility). This notwithstanding, Government has had a meeting with UTAG on 23rd July, 2014 and has supposedly agreed to pay the Book and Research Allowances for the 2013/2014 academic year but with no clear time lines. UTAG considers these inconsistences by Government as not only a mere pretence, but also a lack of clear focus, and a deliberate attempt to unduly delay the process. The leadership of UTAG, has so far, managed to contain the frustration and anger of its entire membership on the various campuses, and has demonstrated the highest level of magnanimity and cooperation on this matter, all in the effort not to disrupt the academic calendar. Unfortunately, under the present circumstances, it has become extremely difficult to contain the situation. Consequently, UTAG has decided to withdraw indefinitely its teaching services with effect from today, Thursday, 24th July, 2014. Thank you Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press!