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How true is Education Minister’s claim that Ghanaian teachers have not embarked on industrial action in four years?

Dr. Matthew Opoku Prempeh. Minister of education, Ghana. 5 mins read

Claim: for four years there hasn’t been a teacher demonstration or strike in Ghana

Evidence shows the minister’s comment is false.

Full Text

Issues in the education sector continue to feature prominently in discussions and political campaigns as the 2020 elections inches closer.

There have been arguments, especially between the two major political parties, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP) over which party has superior policies and better plans for the country’s educational sector beyond 2020.

Prioritising the needs and conditions of service of teachers has come up strongly in these discussions.

Both parties have also made promises for teachers in their respective 2020 manifestos.

Touting the record of the NPP government over the past four years, Education Minister, Dr. Mathew Opoku Prempeh, argued the NPP has a superior record in taking care of the welfare of teachers than the NDC.

Addressing a gathering at the launch of the Volta NPP Teachers Network, a group of teachers at the pre-tertiary level who are supporters of the NPP in the Volta Region, the minister said for the past four years, there hasn’t been any demonstration or strike action by teachers in the country.

This, he attributes to the government’s effective management of issues related to teachers.

Below is a transcript of part of the minister’s speech on Sunday, October 11, 2020:

In three and a half years, what your government has done is unparalleled. Today I won’t talk about what we have done in education, I will talk about what we have done with teaching and teachers. And I will like those who claim they are professors and held the ministry for four years before I got there; I wish I got the opportunity to sit and we take one by one, one by one… If we should count what NPP has done one by one, NDC should run into the bush. Me, I’m a doctor, I’m not a teacher so for starters, I come to sit in that seat looking at the teachers with respect and honour and for four years, there has not been a teacher demonstration or strike.  That itself should send NDC to the bush.

Verification

To verify the claim on strike action by teachers, Dubawa searched online and found reports of strike actions declared by the National Association of Graduate Teachers (NAGRAT) in September 2019 over issues the association said negatively affected the Ghanaian teacher.

Also, in December 2019, three teacher unions: the Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT), NAGRAT, and the Coalition of Concerned Teachers (CCT) declared a strike action over the government’s failure to pay the legacy arrears of their members.

The video of the declaration of the December 2019 strike posted by UTV can be found here.

Again in October 2018, the CCT declared a strike action over what they said was the government’s failure to pay their salary arrears and the imposition of a life insurance policy on its members.

In April 2018, NAGRAT also embarked on a strike action which was reported here, here and here.

Dubawa also sought to find out whether there had been any demonstrations embarked on by teachers. Though we could not find any record of teacher unions organizing a demonstration, a group calling itself Coalition of Aggrieved Teachers held a demonstration on September 20, 2020, over unpaid salaries and promotion arrears.

With these revelations, Dubawa reached out to the Minister of Education on the phone for further clarification of his comments.

Dr. Opoku Prempeh stood by his comments, explaining that though the teacher unions declared a strike, they could not embark on the strike before they were compelled by the National Labour Commission (NLC) to go back to work.

To further verify this, Dubawa made efforts to speak to the teacher unions. The president of NAGRAT, Angel Karbonu, declined to comment on the matter, explaining that the union will issue a comprehensive statement on the matter on Tuesday. The many calls put to the president of GNAT went unanswered.

The Northern regional president of CCT, Laar Yaw Naanang, debunked in a telephone interview the minister’s comment and explained that the strike action embarked on by CCT in October 2018 lasted for two weeks.

He further explained that the December 2019 strike which involved CCT, GNAT and NAGRAT started on December 9 and called off on December 12 after the NLC secured a 10-day injunction on the strike.

“If the minister really said that, I think it’s not true. On those occasions, we did go on strike. We abandoned the post, we laid  our tools and so if we were not working how can you say we didn’t go on strike?” he quizzed.

Dr. Opoku Prempeh in the telephone interview also explained that there are procedures to follow before strike action is declared by a labour union and that if those procedures are not followed, such a strike would be illegal and cannot be considered a strike.

But Mr. Naanang again counted this, explaining that though the labour commission always intervened to get them back to work, their actions stood as a strike.

Expert wade in

To get an expert view on whether a strike declared illegal can be considered a strike or not, Dubawa contacted a labour consultant and Chief Executive Officer of Gamey and Gamey Group, Austin Gamey.

Mr. Gamey explained that the fact that a strike is declared illegal does not make it a non-strike.

“A strike whether legal or illegal is a strike,” he asserted.

He further explained that once a strike is declared and workers stay out of work, whether or not the strike is later declared illegal does not nullify the action.

The Executive Secretary of the NLC, Ofosu Asamoah, in a Citi News interview on the September 2019 strike by NAGRAT said there can be a lawful strike and an illegal one.

“They are engaging in an illegal strike. Strikes cannot be strictly outlawed. There can be a lawful strike and an illegal one,” he was quoted as saying.

What constitutes a strike, per Ghana’s Labour Law?

Ghana’s Labour Act, 2003 (Act 651) defines strike to mean any action by two or more workers acting in concert which is intended by them to restrict in any way the service they normally provide to the employer or diminish the output of such service with a view to applying coercive pressure upon the employer and includes sympathy strike and those activities commonly called a work-to-rule, a go-slow or a sit-down strike.

The Labour Act also makes reference to legal and illegal strikes and prescribes punishment for employees who embark on an illegal strike.

“Subject to sections 159 and 160, a strike or lockout is legal if it is in sympathy with or in support of a strike action taken by another worker or group of workers against their employer on account of an industrial dispute with the employer,” Section 168 (1) of the Law Act states.

The law however states in Section 160 (1) that a party to an industrial dispute should give a seven-day notice of its intention to strike and can only embark on the strike after the expiration of the seven days.

“A party to an industrial dispute who has given notice of intention to resort to a strike or lockout under section 159 may do so only after the expiration of seven days from the date of the notice and not at any time before the expiration of that period,” the Labour Act states.

The Labour law therefore recognises that there could be a legal or illegal strike. Dubawa could not, however, find any part of the labour law that stipulates that a strike, declared  illegal, ceases to be a strike.

Conclusion

Based on the evidence above we rate the minister’s comment as false.

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