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Workers unions call for review of labour laws

BY: Donald Ato Dapatem & Emelia Ennin Abbey
Dr Yaw Baah, the Secretary General, TUC,  speaking at the 2019 May Day celebrations in Accra.
Dr Yaw Baah, the Secretary General, TUC, speaking at the 2019 May Day celebrations in Accra.

Labour unions in the country have called for the urgent review of the current labour laws which they describe as colonial in nature and an affront to the dignity and sweat of the Ghanaian worker.

They argued that the prevailing laws did not provide adequate protection for workers in terms of job and income security as well as health and safety.

The Secretary General of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), Dr Anthony Yaw Baah, called for the review when he spoke on behalf of labour unions at this year’s national May Day parade in Accra yesterday.

It was on the theme: “Sustainable Pensions for All; The Role of Social Partners”. 

Dr Baah said the labour unions had made a case at the National Tripartite Committee for a review of the labour laws, especially the National Labour Act, to protect the interest of workers of Ghana.

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He expressed the confidence that the government would provide the necessary support for the Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations, the Ministry of Justice and Attorney-General and Parliament to facilitate the review process to come up with a law that would truly protect workers from the prevailing colonial labour practices.

Reasons

“There are still hundreds of thousands of Ghanaian workers who are paid below the minimum wage of GH¢270 per month. Many employees have been working for decades without employment contract,” he said.

Dr Baah added that many Ghanaian workers were denied their fundamental human rights to join unions because they could be sacked by their employers, citing telecom companies and hotels as the worst culprits, while other workers were denied annual and sick leave with pay.

The TUC Secretary General said some workers were forced to work over time without pay, children worked in hazardous conditions in farms and engaged in fishing and surprisingly some female employees had been denied their reproductive rights to have children because their employment contracts would be terminated if they were found to be pregnant.

“Unfortunately, some state institutions are guilty of these things,” Dr Baah said.

Those unfair labour practices, he stated, were being perpetrated by employers who knew that the state institutions charged with checking those things, especially the Factories Inspectorate Division of the Labour Department and National Labour Commission, could not enforce compliance.

He, therefore, appealed to the government to provide the necessary human and financial resources for those state institutions to perform their duties effectively.

Pensions

On pensions, Dr Baah said the labour unions were focusing on pension this year because even though Ghana’s total working population was estimated at 13 million, just 1.5 million of them had access to pension under the Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT).

He explained that more than 11 million workers did not have access to social security, saying the situation was unacceptable in a rich and proud middle-income country such as Ghana.

To him “something had definitetly gone wrong in our economic and social policy”.

He appealed to President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo to correct the flaw in the nation’s social policy with concrete plans and a road map for pension coverage in Ghana in the 2020 budget.

The weakness, he pointed out, was due to inherent flaws in the pension 

system and failure of social policies to recognise the needs of vulnerable people and called for remedial measures to address the issue.

Expressing worry over the inequality in pension benefits, Dr Baah said about a quarter of the 200,000 people who were on the SSNIT pension scheme received about GH¢300 a month, which he described as woefully inadequate, especially, given the health challenges of old people after retirement.

Dr Baah said a technical team put together by organised labour to investigate the computation of pensions found that the inadequate pension could be attributed to low salaries and the way pensions were computed.

He said labour had been engaging with the National Pensions Regulatory Authority (NPRA) and other stakeholders on the computation of pension benefits, adding that they were making progress because SSNIT and NPRA had been cooperative in the discussions.

Government indebtedness

He said another factor that was hindering progress was the government’s huge indebtedness to SSNIT and the second tier occupational pension scheme.

“We are aware that the government transferred more than GH¢3 billion to public sector second-tier schemes in 2018 but that was a small step in the right direction,” he said.

The National Pension Scheme, Dr Baah said, could not perform effectively and efficiently if the government which was the single largest employer with more than 600,000 workers on its payroll failed to pay social security contributions.

“If there is any factor that can lead to the collapse of our pension schemes, it is the persistent non-payment of social security contributions by government,” he said, and appealed to the President “to change this situation.”

Container terminal

The Secretary General of the TUC also raised concerns over the construction of a new container terminal facility by Meridian Port Services (MPS).

The 35-year contract between the government and MPS, signed in 2015, will allow MPS to monopolise activities at the Tema Port when they start operation in June this year.

He said apart from the contract being awarded to MPS without competitive bidding, analysis by the TUC had shown that “when the new terminal starts operation the monopolistic rights given to MPS would affect the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA) and other operators at the port in terms of revenue losses and massive job losses in the maritime industry.

“GPHA may declare about 1,400 workers redundant in 2019 alone. If the contract is not reviewed, and the MPS starts operation in June this year, Ghana will surely lose millions of dollars in revenue in addition to more than $800 million granted to MPS as concession as part of the deal,” he said.

Dr Baah appealed to the President to intervene by ensuring that the contract between Ghana and MPS was reviewed, adding that “we need an agreement which is mutually beneficial and fair to the people of Ghana.”

He appealed to workers to continue to work hard in spite of all the challenges they faced and support the government’s vision of Ghana Beyond Aid, “together with our social partners, let us prove to the world that Ghana can manage its own affairs without the intrusion of the international monetary power.

 “What the working people of Ghana are demanding is a review of the social contract that guarantees adequate wages, safe working environment and universal access to pensions,” he added.

March

Ahead of the parade, members of the various trades unions, sporting various colours of polo shirts and carrying placards embarked on a walk from the Kwame Nkrumah Circle Interchange to the Black Star Square in Accra.

Some of the inscriptions on the placards read: “You want dignity for your loved ones? respect us”, “No GPHA, No MPS”, “Posterity will judge us about GPHA”,”Can this dubious deal happen in Jordan”, “CPC is grateful for the stimulus package?”, and ”Where are our protective clothes,” among others. 

At the parade grounds, some of the workers defied the rain and  took their turns to march amid singing and dancing.

After the parade, most of the workers were seen partying and making merry to loud music.