Varsity workers to face sanction for embarking on illegal strike

Members of the Teachers and Educational Workers Union (TEWU) face sanction from their employers if they fail to go back to work as directed by the National Labour Commission (NLC).

Section 168 (4) of the Labour Act, 2003 (Act 651) states that ‘Without prejudice to subsection (2) a worker who takes part in an illegal strike may have his or her services terminated by the employer without notice for breach of his or her contract of employment or may forfeit his or her remuneration in respect of the period during which he or she is engaged in the illegal strike.’

The striking TEWU members could, therefore, lose their jobs or salaries during the period they embarked on the industrial action.

TEWU declared a nationwide strike beginning Monday, January 18, 2016 to mount pressure on the Fair Wages and Salaries Commission (FWSC) to address the salary gap between junior and senior staff in public universities.

According to TEWU, the implementation of the Single Spine Salary Structure (SSSS) in 2010 had resulted in a big gap between junior and senior staff and even though, it had raised the issue a number of times, the FWSC had failed to deliver on its promise to bridge the gap.

TEWU called off a similar strike in September 2015 following assurances from FWSC that the problem would be resolved.

TEWU insisted that its latest strike was as a result of a December 31, 2015 deadline which had expired and so FWSC left them with no option but to advise itself.

 Go back
In response to TEWU’s action, the NLC, in a statement last Thursday, declared the strike illegal and ordered the striking workers back to work or risk being sanctioned.

  A press release signed by the Acting Executive Secretary of the NLC, Dr Bernice Welbeck, says TEWU’s failure to follow laid-down procedures made the strike illegal.

She warned that employers may be forced to apply the necessary sanctions if the strike was not called off.

The statement said after deliberating with the parties, the NLC directed that ‘the declaration of strike by TEWU is illegal because the union has failed to observe procedures for embarking on strike pursuant to Sections 159 and 160 of the Labour Act, 2003 (Act 651).’

While Section 159  requires the party intending to go on strike to write to the commission and the other party within seven days after their failure to reach an agreement to refer the dispute to voluntary arbitration or the termination of talks between the two parties, Section 160 indicates that the party that declared its intention to go on strike could only do so after the expiration of seven days from the date of the notice and not at any time before the expiration of that period.

Further, If the dispute remains unresolved within seven days from the commencement of the strike or lockout, the dispute shall be settled by compulsory arbitration under the watch of the NLC.

With that in mind, the NLC, therefore, called on the union to call off the strike immediately and resume work.

‘Should the union fail to call off the strike, the employer may apply the necessary sanctions as prescribed under Section 168 (4) of Act 651,’ the statement said.

The NLC further directed that since the FWSC had already invited TEWU to a meeting on January 21, 2016, the parties should meet as scheduled and report back to the commission on Wednesday, January 27, 2016.

But the leadership of TEWU appears to have defied the order as of yesterday. They failed to call off the strike.

The Daily Graphic’s attempt to get the position of the TEWU leadership did not yield results as its Secretary-General, Mr Ralph Apayaa, said the union was meeting over the issue.

Mr Apayaa,  in an interview with some journalists when the indefinite strike began on Monday, January 16, however said members would return to  work only when the FWSC resolved disparities in their grades.

In line with that, they wanted the FWSC to implement recommendations of a committee it had set up that reviewed their grievances.

He explained that the NLC was privy to all correspondences and communications between the FWSC and TEWU, but had made no overtures to them to resolve their issues, forcing them to call a strike.

However, in an earlier interview with Citi FM, the union’s National Chairman, Mr Peter Lumor, hinted of a protracted strike, stating that the union was not likely to return to work because it was not happy with the way authorities were addressing their concerns.

 ’We are not happy with this placement issue. We have done this with Vice Chancellors Ghana (VCG) and FWSC. VCG was here but the human resource directors who did the work and submitted reports and must speak to it were not here. Our strike still continues. The leadership of TEWU will meet and discuss the way forward,’ he told Citi FM.

  FWSC reacts
The Chief Executive of the FWSC, Mr George Smith-Graham, when contacted, said in accordance with the directive, the parties would be meeting to dialogue for an amicable solution to the issues raised by the union.

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