Parliament on Tuesday discussed extensively the current strike by members of the National Association of Graduate Teachers (NAGRAT), and appealed to the striking teachers to go back to the classroom as Government makes efforts to address their grievances.
This followed a statement on the floor by Papa Owusu-Ankomah, Minister of Education, Science and Sports, stating that the apparent silence of the Ministry and the Management of the GES on the matter had been due to the efforts of the National Labour Commission to find amicable solution to the problem.
Papa Owusu-Ankomah commended the Graduate and other professional teachers on efforts to educate the future manpower and leadership of the country, but said, " we do not believe the reasons adduced by the current leadership of NAGRAT, whether at the regional level or national level to call for a strike action instead of a dialogue is the best in the interest of our mother land."
He said negotiations on the new salary levels for teachers were underway, and would be considered within the general context of the comprehensive Public Sector Pay Reform. The teachers who have for several weeks abandoned the classroom in demand for better working conditions have indicated their decision to challenge the verdict of an Accra Fast Track Court, which ruled that their strike was illegal and asked them to go back to the classroom.
Among the demands of the NAGRAT members were for Government to review salaries of workers, especially that of teachers by September 1, 2006; for NAGRAT to be given representation on committees and panels of the Ghana Education Service (GES) and the GES Council that deal with matters affecting graduate teachers.
The graduate teachers are also requiring that the Controller and Accountant General ceased the use of Auto Code that effects deductions from teachers salaries; and also calling for the Acting Director of the GES to be replaced since his compulsory retirement was due last year.
They are further asking Government to implement all outstanding grievances on which Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) had been signed, which included invigilation allowances for Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination (SSSCE) that the West African Examination Council (WAEC) and the GES should convene a meeting to discuss the invigilation fees and letters of conversion to be issued to all graduate teachers whether professional or not. Other issues included the implementation of adjustment in salaries and ranks or Assistant Director and above or; meaningful responsibility allowances to be put in place by the GES and its Council for all teachers; and for teachers recruited in the 2003/2004 academic year to be paid arrears of their salaries due them.
Papa Owusu-Ankomah said there were continuing discussions with various stakeholders, including religious bodies to appeal to the teachers to resume work. Also there would be a redeployment of available teachers to attend to the examination classes and to reorganize the general school timetable to cover more periods. Other steps that would be adopted would be directives to heads of institutions to engage teachers in the interim in consultations with their boards and Parent-Teacher Associations to stabilize the situation and to appeal to old students associations to mobilize those of their members who are teachers to liaise with the heads of institutions to assist in resolving the crisis.
Retired teachers would also be recruited to support teaching in schools as well as strategic posting of National Service Personnel to support teaching. Contributing to the statement, Mr Alex Tettey-Enyo, NDC-Ada, who is also a former Director General of the GES said if the initiative had been taken to bring the two unions of the Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT) and NAGRAT together much of the problem would have been solved.
He expressed regret that it appeared members of NAGRAT were being treated shabbily. Mr Stephen Balado Manu, NPP Ahafo-Ano South and Chairman of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Education said NAGRAT's strike was not a new phenomenon and were the issue not before court, and also if the education sector Minister gave him approval, he would use his skills to solve the impasse within two days.
He said NAGRAT was not in to break the front of teachers and that NAGRAT could be represented on the bigger union, GNAT, to negotiate for better working conditions instead of a mandatory negotiating license. Mr Balado Manu explained that since both unions were fighting for the good of teachers, NAGRAT should have taken the opportunity to join behalf of other groups with less membership.
Mr Joe Gidisu, NDC Central Tongu said the labour relations and the GES were unique and pointed out that the diversion from what was stipulated in the Ghana Universal Salary Structure (GUSS) that put the Director General of the GES on the same salary scale with the Deputy Director of the Ministry of Health had been the cause of the problem for past eight to ten years.
Mr Gidisu said both positions hitherto earned five million cedis monthly but that of the Deputy Director of the Ministry of Health soared to 33 million cedis a month. He called for implementation of the GUSS rather than a duplication of another consultant to come out with a new salary structure. Dr Paa Kwesi Nduom, Minister of Public Sector Reform said it would not help the nation if discussions on salary structure were done on partisan level, adding that the 1997 GUSS document was not implemented because there was not a body for implementation and monitoring of the salary structure. He said decisions that were taken were ad-hoc in nature and were not based on any technical analysis of jobs contents and market survey.