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“The past few days have not been easy for us. Nothing goes on here on campus and the days are just counting. The strike by our lecturers have dealt a great deal of blow on our academic calendar. We’re paying dearly for what is definitely not our fault,” Cynthia Takyi, a student at the University of Ghana, tells The Africa Report as she sits lonely under a tree near an empty lecture hall.
Takyi and thousands of other students in public universities in the West African country have been counting the days they will return to the lecture halls as four teacher unions declare a sit-down strike, beginning this January, over their poor conditions of service.
“Must it always have to come to this point before the government reacts? It’s not fair and this is becoming perennial. They need to find a lasting solution to these strikes,” Takyi says.
As if that is not enough headache to usher the second-term government of President Nana Akufo-Addo into the New Year, on the health front, anaesthetists are also beating war drums while labourers who load bags of cocoa into warehouses and trucks are also asking for a pay raise, leaving the beans – the commodity that makes up about 20-25% of total export receipts – to rot.
‘Fix the huge erosion in our salaries’
The striking parties are all asking for better conditions of service, chiefly, salaries. The lecturers, for instance, say after spending 10 years in school to attain PhDs, they earn close to $900 or less a month as entry-level teachers – equivalent to 18% of the salary of a junior government minister.
We’ve suffered for long. It’s not our interest to let the students suffer because we’re not teaching. We must blame the government for failing to honour its side of the bargain.
“We’ve been negotiating with the government since 2012 but nothing comes out of it. All that we have been demanding is for the government to restore us to an entry level of about $1,900 to reflect what is in the labour law,” Solomon Nunoo, the national president of one of the striking groups, the University Teachers Association of Ghana, tells The Africa Report.
“We’ve suffered for long. It’s not our interest to let the students suffer because we’re not teaching. We must blame the government for failing to honour its side of the bargain. We’ve shown commitment over the years and we believe a lot depends on the government to fix the huge erosion in our salaries.”
Kofi Asare, the executive director of Africa Education Watch, also agrees, saying “high level of inequality in income structure” across the board, especially at the education sector is the root cause of most of the strikes in the country.
“The government must exhibit good faith by respecting collective bargaining agreements in order to resolve these strikes else it will continue to affect motivation and also derail the academic calendar,” Asare tells The Africa Report.
‘More turbulences on the labour front should be expected’
The Ghanaian government should brace itself for more labour unrest this year because of high cost of living in the oil-producing country, says labour consultant and conflict resolution expert, Austin Gamey.
According to him, the government should be more proactive to preempt some of these strikes before they escalate. He said the sectors that would witness more strikes are education and health.
“More turbulences on the labour front should be expected,” Gamey tells The Africa Report. “Workers are going to make a lot of demands due to high cost of living. It is up to the government to find ways of resolving these problems by engaging the unions as quickly as possible. The ministers heading health and education should be ready.”
‘It’s a phase and we’ll definitely cross’
Meanwhile, the government says it is in touch with the various labour unions to resolve their grievances.
Deputy finance minister John Kumah says the government will not allow the system to grind to a halt as a result of the series of strikes, giving the assurance that institutions that have been tasked to negotiate on behalf of the government have been up to the task.
“We’re working with the national labour commission and the fair wages commission to deal with all these issues. It’s a phase and we’ll definitely cross. We’re a listening government so we’ll continue to follow procedures and dialogue with all aggrieved parties to find a solution,” Kumah tells The Africa Report.
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