ANALYSIS: Will President Mills LOSE teachers too? – Asks Dr Michael J.K. Bokor

Teachers of all categories in the country have bared their teeth at what they perceived to be deception by government in respect of their salaries following the implementation of the Single Spine Salary Structure (SSSS). Indeed, they are extremely unhappy at the disparities—a situation which runs counter to their high expectations of equity and improved income. Theirs is a genuine expression of justifiable anger, which I wholeheartedly support. Can’t those in charge of national affairs ever do anything right, for once?

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Before the end of February, the government and the Fair Wages Commission had created the impression that teachers would be laughing all the way to the bank on pay-day. The pay-day came and went; but what we have heard so far is unbecoming. Teachers have their heads in their hands and are so embittered as to physically demonstrate their disgust at the government for toying with their sentiments. Their salaries did not see any drastic improvement. Others had theirs slashed. What can be responsible for this massive deception?

Let it be said loud and clear that the injustice meted out to our teachers is unacceptable. It is demoralizing and dangerous to our quest for fairness as part of our democratic experiment. Rather ironically, this injustice has occurred under the watch of a President who had been a teacher for over 30 years and whose promises of improving the lot of teachers doesn’t seem to be supported by his government’s actions. For once, can’t President Mills rise up to the occasion in order not to lose the confidence of this category of the electorate too?

When the personnel of the Ghana Police Service were migrated to the SSSS, they laughed all the way to the bank. We didn’t hear that they were angry. Why should it not be so for the teachers too? I don’t want to believe that there is a calculated attempt to discriminate against them. Nor do I want to imagine that this kind of deception will be perpetrated on others lined up to be migrated to the SSSS, such as personnel of the Ghana Armed Forces and doctors. I wonder how the government can contain the situation if the soldiers feel as the teachers do over this disappointing handling of their salary problem.

As is to be expected, tension is high in the ranks of teachers all over the country. Clearly, what has been set in motion by this discontent over the February salary levels will not abate easily unless the teachers’ grievances are promptly redressed. Already, the aggrieved teachers have outlined their line of action.

Those in Kumasi have begun taking matters into their own hands by:

Calling for the immediate resignation of their national leaders, saying that they had lost confidence in the leadership of the Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT) and the National Association of Graduate Teachers (NAGRAT);

Wearing red bands and vowing that they would not return to the classroom until they see improvement in their salaries;

Deciding not to participate in any national assignment, including the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) and the West African Senior Secondary School Examination (WASSCE). 

Their colleagues in the Hohoe Municipality have threatened that if no tangible messages are received from the authorities by Friday, March 4, they will boycott the Independence Day parade on Sunday. They intend to lay down their tools from Tuesday, March 8, and further boycott the supervision of the BECE and the WASSCE.

Others within the Sekondi/Takoradi metropolis on Thursday took to the streets to express their disappointment. In the Sunyani Municipality, teachers of all categories decided that no teacher would be available to supervise pupils and students at the forthcoming 54th Independence Anniversary parade on Sunday, March 6. Traffic came -to a virtual standstill in the Volta Regional capital of Ho when teachers took to the streets. These actions are just an inkling of the major ones yet to follow. I am with the teachers on this score.

 The Ghana National Association of Teachers—itself the subject of anger for the teachers—is blaming politicians for hyping public expectation about the pay policy. The General Secretary of GNAT, Irene Duncan Adanusa, told Joy News that the salary structure was not a guarantee for astronomical salary increases, but some politicians exaggerated matters, whipping up people’s expectations about the new pay structure.

The level of anger among the teachers suggests that they are determined to ensure that their grievances are met with practical action, not mere promises. Obviously, the government has succeeded in antagonizing yet another segment of the society. I wonder how long this government wants to take to restore public goodwill for itself. Actions of this sort will further deepen its woes and create fertile conditions for its political opponents to exploit. It is not as if any other political camp will solve the teachers’ (or workers’) problems, though; but the likelihood is high that the matter will be heavily politicized.

It is shameful for the government to play politics with teachers’ fate. Here is the puerile reaction from Mr. George Graham-Smith, Chairman of the Fair Wages Commission, who blamed GNAT and the NAGRAT for “exerting pressure on the Commission to migrate teachers onto the SSSS, hence the anomalies.”

Happenings of this sort don’t only demoralize the citizens but they also confirm their apprehensions that our leaders are not interested in solving their problems. They create the impression that they will always live in narrow circumstances no matter which party governs this country, which isn’t good for our democracy. They make teaching an unattractive profession. Can we do without teachers?
Isn’t it pathetic that all those who find their way into leadership positions in this country have passed through the hands of teachers? Or have themselves been teachers before turning to politics for redemption? The days when teachers accepted (if even grudgingly) that their reward “is in heaven” are gone and must be reckoned as such. Teachers mustn’t continue to be downtrodden anymore.
The face-saving annual Teachers Award ceremony is a sham, which must not be upheld as any favour being done teachers by the politicians who use the occasion to whip up mere sentiments to boost their own egos and political capital. What does the country gain from all that showmanship when the very fundamental problems that prevent progress in the education sector cannot be solved?

This Single Spine Salary issue seems to be creating more anxieties and fear among salaried workers migrated to it than what will make them heave sighs of relief on pay-day. From what has happened so far, it is clear that the Fair Wages Commission is not fair at all in its work. Or, maybe, someone in authority is bent on causing mischief. Otherwise, why should there be distortions in the salaries being paid teachers and others already migrated to the SSSS if the right procedures had been followed? More importantly, is it really true that migrating salaried workers from the old payment method to the new one is more beneficial? Where is the evidence?

Again, is the SSSS so secret as to be shrouded in mystery? Why not release the document on it to the generality of workers to peruse so they can inform themselves of what will determine their fate on pay-day? Or for their endorsement first? Shouldn’t pay-slips be given to the beneficiaries in advance even?

While being maltreated this way, these teachers are demoralized and shouldn’t be expected to raise productivity. This kind of shoddiness in the handling of serious problems is frightening. Is President Mills saying that he cannot do anything, for once, to instill confidence in the people that his government knows how to solve problems?
For how long must this kind of murderous insensitivity be allowed to continue? The teachers know the reality: that a diploma holder in the security services is paid between GH¢ 400 and GH¢ 500 while an HND holder takes GH¢ 1,000 as against the GH¢ 290 that a teacher with a diploma is paid under the new pay policy.

Despite all the juicy benefits they already enjoy, the politicians are not content. They are pressing for astronomical increments in their salaries while turning a blind eye to the fate of all others who also contribute to and depend on the national coffers for survival.
These politicians have no conscience. While the public and private-sector workers are paid “killer wages and salaries” and can’t even afford accommodation or barely live from-hand-to-mouth, these politicians are grabbing property left and right. The deprived sections of the society notice all that is going on and will not sit down unconcerned. If, indeed, it is their sweat, toil, and blood that provides the revenue to shore up the Consolidated Fund, then, they must take action to ensure that they benefit from their contributions.

I am disturbed by the unconscionable attitude on the part of the government and those at the Fair Wages Commission toward our hardworking and dedicated teachers. They deserve better than this deception.

By antagonizing teachers, the government should know that it is fast losing its constituency. Indeed, as the time draws near for the electioneering campaigns to begin, those who feel dissatisfied at the government’s performance should bare their teeth. They should make their presence felt so as to instill fear in the politicians. Then, they will look over their shoulders and be in constant fear of losing grip on power. We must monitor the situation with much vigilance to ensure that none of them takes us for granted any more.

President Mills may claim to be rejecting all the “superfluous” perks of his office but he can’t persuade us that he isn’t better off now (as a politician) than when he was a law lecturer for many years at the University of Ghana, Legon. Others like him are all over the place, flaunting their wealth about. What is good for these politician-turned-teachers that isn’t good for all others who have chosen to remain in the classroom?

As is characteristic of a government that is hamstrung by its own lack of vision, the Mills government hasn’t even taken any immediate and decisive step to assuage the teachers’ anger. Instead, the square-peg-in-a-round-hole that we have as the Minister of Education is appealing to the teachers to be patient, which only adds more fuel to their anger. For how long should teachers continue to be deceived into tightening their belt while they see the brazen manner in which the politicians make money at the expense of the system? Surely, this is not how to build a viable democracy.