Yes, I agree that this title can be totally misconstrued, but I am willing to take the flak for that because I believe it encapsulates in a dramatic manner, the current, or is it recurrent, labour landscape of persistent and unending industrial disputes in this country.
Even the term organised labour that we all thought could be conveniently employed to describe all those who work in this country, has no settled meaning, confusing even more, a landscape crying for clarity and peace on the front of working Ghanaians.
Who is a worker in Ghana, and how come that in the times we have had constitutional civilian rule in this country from 1957, their leaders, or their members, or both, see confrontation with the government of the day as proof of their relevance to the national development effort?
The unpalatable truth of the matter is that workers in this country are overwhelmingly those who work in the civil and public services of this country. In other words, these workers do not really produce anything; they keep the government machinery working. The only striking exceptions to this general profile of Ghanaian labour are the doctors, nurses and teachers in public hospitals and schools dotted all over the country.
Way back in the First Republic of Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, a government official had cause to describe labour leaders as despicable rats! This was a government formed by a party which had the Trades Union Congress as an integral wing of the ruling party! In the Second Republic of Prime Minister Kofi Busia, the TUC was virtually banned. On both occasions, the coups which toppled the respective governments used these incidents as part of the justifying criteria for their ouster from power in 1966 and 1972 respectively.
I do remember the dramatic occasion during the Third Republican government of President Hilla Limann when he assumed the post of chief executive of the Black Star Line in the midst of an industrial dispute between the management and the seamen. In the event, the shipping line has disappeared from the landscape of this country, the twin result of the intransigence of those who were working there, and the blindness of the government to periodically retool and renew the stock of ships of the line.
What about the moment in the time of President Kufuor when he ordered soldiers to take over and ran the Ridge Hospital in the face of strike by the doctors and nurses there? Our civilian brothers and sisters at Ridge caved in and returned to work when the soldiers arrived to hoist their flag to symbolise the capture of the hospital!
In the military, which itself is an essential service, disobeying your lawful commander is mutiny, a capital offence, but our civilian counterparts, who are also considered by our laws as essential services workers, do not care a hoot about their elevated status in our country. Why? Are they less or more Ghanaian than our compatriots in uniform?
As I write, this very paper has seen it fit to call for peace on the labour front between government and workers on the raging dispute on the final berth of the Second- Tier of the pension monies due retired workers when they fall due next year. This was in last Wednesdays editorial of this paper.
Interpretation of pensions law
The vexing question we seem to be strenuously avoiding all this while is the easy and frequent resort to the tool of strike by workers to compel government to cave in to their demands. As a matter of fact, the provisions in the new pensions law do not admit of easy interpretation, and it would have served the interests of organised labour better if it had first gone to court to seek clarity, and not wait for government as the employer, to do so. After all, the principal beneficiary of clarity in the current legislation will be labour, and not the government.
But as has become the norm, the government is in court as a reaction to the strike called by twelve unions to compel the government to see things their way. Did it have to come to this?
Organised labour should be told that they are an integral part of this country, and our collective successes and failures as a developing country is a collective heritage, and not the sole asset of whoever happens to be in government. The people of this country have the power to signal to our leaders that this recurring arm-twisting is enough. This is so especially in view of the constitutional democratic government we are all enjoying at the moment. The choice of democracy mandates the existence of bodies to resolve labour issues with adequate labour representation, from SSNIT to PURC to the National Labour Commission and related bodies.
Organised labour should let us know if they are against the form of government we have now that involves their leadership directly in matters affecting labour, and indicate what form of government they desire for us that would be designed to consider labour as the only group with grievances in the polity.
No work no pay?
Already we now have growing opinion that those who go on strike must not be paid, a view which has found expression in the current action in court. Some labour leaders never fail to point to the existence of Article 71 office holders and their lavish ex-gratia as the reason for their perpetual resort to strikes in this Fourth Republic. But our politicians have been very sensitive to this, with the late President Mills seeking amendments to the Chinery-Hesse Report with the Ewurama Addy Report.
President Mahama even went further to cut his pay to signal the sensitivity of politicians to the issue of emoluments, quite apart from the dramatic increases mandated by the Single Spine pay policy to all workers.
Our brothers and sisters in the labour unions should know that no matter the provocation and the deliberate discomfort and destabilisation their actions cause in our daily lives, President Mahama would not be persuaded to ban them as happened in the time of the Second Republic. That alone should encourage them to adopt reconciliation and compromise as their preferred tools of resolving disputes, not confrontation and strikes. They should always remember, that we are all in this, together.
Source: Colin Essamuah/D-Graphic
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