Five labour unions have urged the government to show genuine political will and honesty to initiate measures to address the appalling conditions of service of workers.
They also expressed worry about the generally low wages and salaries of workers, saying it was only when the government demonstrated true political will to increase workers’ salaries by at least 20 per cent and use social dialogue with labour unions that it could engender the trust needed to resolve the frequent labour unrest.
In their view, the government, as an employer, must also show respect to labour unions during negotiations, a cardinal principle in social dialogue.
The leaders of the various labour unions said these in interviews with the Daily Graphic during the May Day celebration at the Black Star Square in Accra last Sunday.
The leaders included the National Chairman of the General Transport, Petroleum and Chemical Workers Union of the TUC, Bernard Owusu; the General Secretary of the Ghana Mineworkers Union, Abdul-Moomin Gbana; the General Secretary of the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (ICU), Morgan Ayawine; the President of the National Association of Graduate Teachers (NAGRAT), Angel Carbonu, and the General Secretary of the Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT), Thomas Musah.
The celebration was on the theme: “Protecting jobs and incomes in an era of COVID-19 and beyond”.
Mr Owusu said to ensure harmony on the labour front, stakeholders must recognise that there was a partnership among the government, the unions and employers.
He said political will would build trust among the parties, saying that “when there is trust between two people, obviously whatever they seek to discuss will be productive.”
“Our expectation is that the government, labour unions and employers will have the political will to be able to engage us, and once that is there, it will enable us to start on a sound footing.
“But if we decide to be intransigent or have entrenched positions and the government will not listen to us, there is bound to be a clash, leading to labour unrest,” he said.
Mr Owusu indicated that if inflation was skyrocketing at 19.4 per cent as of March this year, there was no justification for the gargantuan salaries paid to chief executives of state institutions that were making losses.
“If the government is unable to purge itself of issues of corruption, getting to the table to dialogue with other parties will trigger mistrust,” he said.
‘Meet our demands halfway’
While conceding that workers’ demands were high, Mr Owusu urged the government to try and meet such demands halfway to stop labour unrest.
He again conceded that without productivity, there was no way “we can get an enhanced salary.”
“Workers will demand, but currently we know the world economy is in a very tight situation. So as workers, we need to do our bit, while management also does its part,” the chairman posited.
“But it looks like CEOs and directors of public institutions are taking very huge salaries, while the ordinary worker is taking peanuts, and the government must do something to bridge the gap,” he said.
For Mr Ayawine, the need for a healthy relationship between the government and the unions to build a congenial atmosphere for workers to give of their best could not be overemphasised.
He said the government must support workers with the right working tools to ensure peace and harmony to turn the economy around for the good of all.
“When workers are ready to commit themselves to work hard, it will be unfair, when there is increased productivity and profitability, if there is no equity in the sharing of the profit,” he said.
Mr Carbonu expressed worry that last year, the government gave public workers a pay increase of seven per cent when inflation was prevailing at 19.4 per cent.
The NAGRAT president added that the value of workers’ incomes had been eroding so fast with high inflation, making many workers worse off during retirement, since pension was directly linked to salaries.
“Today, it is not possible for the Ghanaian worker to retire into his own two-bedroom house, and that certainly means that disaster will be facing all workers.
“Even if God has given you 80 years, the system will give you 51 years and you will join your ancestors and this is not fair,” Mr Carbonu said.
The president conceded that times were hard, but “the government must increase employees’ pay appreciably in order to cushion them, so that together we can build this nation”.
For Mr Musah, the prevailing economic situation in the country was “biting very hard” on the Ghanaian worker, eroding the value of salaries by as much as 30 per cent.
“So we expect the President to address the statement read by the Secretary-General of the TUC and see how we can find solutions to the problem,” he said.
The Secretary-General of the TUC, Dr Yaw Baah, who addressed the May Day parade on behalf of organised labour, touched on a number of issues and appealed to the government for solutions.
They included the low level of salaries and pay inequalities, which he said had very serious implications on workers, not only when they were in active service but also when they retired; the dwindling levels of decent employment which guaranteed decent income, pension, dignity and rights at work, and the spate of informalisation and casualisation of jobs, particularly in the mining sector.