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All that Organised Labour told Government at May Day (Full statement)

BY: Isaac Yeboah
Dr. Yaw Baah, Secretary General of the Trades Union Congress (left) and Mr. Alex Opoku-Nyarko, Chairman of the Trades Union Congress.
Dr. Yaw Baah, Secretary General of the Trades Union Congress (left) and Mr. Alex Opoku-Nyarko, Chairman of the Trades Union Congress.

On Sunday, May 1, 2022, Ghana joined the international community to mark Workers’ Day, May Day, with a National May Day Parade at the Black Star Square in Accra.

The celebration was held under the theme: “Protecting Jobs and Incomes in an Era of Covid-19aAnd Beyond”

Below is the full statement raising workers’ concerns and suggestions for addressing them, which was read by Dr. Yaw Baah, Secretary General of the Trades Union Congress (Tuc).

ORGANISED LABOUR

MAY DAY STATEMENT

READ BY

DR. YAW BAAH
SECRETARY GENERAL OF THE TRADES UNION CONGRESS (TUC)

AT THE 2022 NATIONAL MAY DAY PARADE
BLACK STAR SQUARE
ACCRA

1ST MAY 2022
__________________________________________________________
THEME
“PROTECTING JOBS AND INCOMES IN AN ERA OF COVID-19 AND BEYOND”
__________________________________________________________


• H.E. NANA ADDO DANKWA AKUFO-ADDO, PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF GHANA;
• H.E. DR. MAHAMUDU BAWUMIA, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF GHANA;
• HON. IGNATIUS BAFFOUR AWUAH, MINISTER FOR EMPLOMENT & LABOUR RELATIONS;
• HON. BRIGHT WEREKO-BROBBY, DEPUTY MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND LABOUR RELATIONS;
• H.E. ANETTE CHAO GARCIA, CUBAN AMBASSADOR TO GHANA;
• HIS EXCELLENCY COMRADE ABDULFATAH ALSATARRI, THE STATE OF PALESTINE AMBASSADOR TO GHANA;
• BROTHER KWASIADU-AMANKWAH, GENERAL SECRETARY OF ITUC-AFRICA
• BROTHER AREZKI MEZHOUD, SECRETARY GENERAL OF ORGANISATION OF AFRICAN TRADE UNION UNITY;
• MR. DANIEL ACHEAMPONG, PRESIDENT OF GHANA EMPLOYERS' ASSOCIATION;
• MR. ALEX FRIMPONG, CEO OF GHANA EMPLOYERS' ASSOCIATION;
• DR. JOHN OFORI-TENKORANG, DIRECTOR-GENERAL OF SSNIT;
• MR. JOHAN IVANOV, RESIDENT DIRECTOR OF THE FRIEDRICH EBERT STIFTUNG;
• COLLEAGUE ORGANIZED LABOUR LEADERS;
• BROTHERS AND SISTERS;

First of all, let me welcome our Special Guests of Honour, H.E President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo and H.E. Vice President Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia to the 2022 May Day National Parade. The presence of the President of the Republic, the Vice President and ministers of state at our parades does not only make the celebration of May Day in Ghana unique but, equally importantly, it provides a great opportunity for Organised Labour to share its perspectives on the multiplicity of challenges facing our country and the people of Ghana.

It is important to note that this is the sixth time we are celebrating May Day with President Akufo-Addo since he took office in January, 2017. He has always honoured our invitations. Even at the peak of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 and 2021 he joined us to celebrate May Day. This is commendable.

I would also like to welcome all our guests to this parade. A very special welcome to Her Excellency Comrade Annette Chao Garcia, Cuban Ambassador to Ghana and His Excellency Comrade Abdulfatah Alsatarri, The State of Palestine Ambassador to Ghana. This is the first time they are celebrating May Day with us. You are welcome, Comrades.

We have with us at this parade a number of former trade union leaders. As we say in trade union circles, 'once a unionist always a unionist'. I welcome all the veterans and all current leaders and members of Organized Labour to this parade.

Brothers and Sisters, the coronavirus pandemic did not allow us to come out in such large numbers to celebrate May Day in 2020 and 2021. But I am very proud to note that the pandemic could not stop us from celebrating May Day. Even when we had to celebrate May Day virtually in 2020 in the studios of GBC, we did that.

Ordinarily, all workers should be happy on May Day. Unfortunately, that is not the case today because of the hardships workers and their families have had to endure, especially in the last two years or so. Minimum wage earners are currently receiving GH¢13.53 a day or GH¢365 per month (which is below the US$1.9 dollars-a-day International Poverty Line at the current exchange rate). In recent months salaries have lost over a third of their real value as prices of essential commodities, including food and fuel, continue to increase on daily basis. Between January and March this year, fuel prices increased by over 50%. A litre of petrol is now selling at over GH¢10.

It may be true that fuel prices are higher in other countries compared to fuel prices in Ghana. For example, the current price of a litre of petrol in the UK is about £1.6 (or US$2.11), compared to about US$1.4 in Ghana. But the national minimum wage in the UK is £9.5 per hour which is the equivalent of GH¢94. For eight hours of work, a minimum wage earner in the UK receives £76 (or US$99) which is the equivalent of GH¢745, compared with GH¢13.53 (or US$1.80) in Ghana. In terms of ratios, a litre of petrol at the price of £1.6 in the UK represents just about 2 percent of the daily minimum wage in the UK. Here in Ghana, the price of a litre of petrol at the price of GH¢10.40 (or US$1.40) represents about 80 percent of a minimum wage earner's daily income. Clearly, in terms of cost of living, the impact of fuel price increases is much more severe on Ghanaians.

We, therefore, call on government to suspend all taxes and levies on petrol, diesel, LPG, and Kerosene until the international price of crude oil and the value of the cedi are stabilized. This will bring down prices of fuel products and ease the burden on Ghanaians. The 15 pesewas reduction offered by government is not enough. Suspending all taxes and levies on fuel products in these challenging times will also demonstrate to Ghanaians that our government really cares and it is sensitive to the plight of the good people of Ghana.

Given the negative effects of higher fuel prices on standard of living, we once again urge government to consider reviewing the method for fuel pricing because the current method is unfair to consumers. Government should also consider revamping the Tema Oil Refinery (TOR) to refine petroleum domestically. This will insulate us from the high fuel prices due to exchange rate fluctuations.

In 2007, when the Cedi was redenominated, GH¢ exchanged for approximately US$1. Today, GH¢1 is just about 13 Cents. The Cedi has lost about 87 percent of its value in the last 15 years. If the Cedi had not been redenominated the exchange rate would be about (¢76,000 to just US$1, at the current exchange rate. Ghanaian workers are feeling the impact of the depreciation of the cedi not only in terms of its effects on fuel prices but also its effects on cost of imported food, medicines and other essential items.

The rapid depreciation of the Ghana Cedi is also feeding into inflation. In July 2021, when we were negotiating national minimum wage and public sector pay for 2021 and 2022, inflation was 9%. In March, 2022, inflation was 19.4%. Between March, 2021 and March, 2022, food prices increased by 22.4%, on average. Prices of some essential commodities increased by higher rates. For example, the price of water increased by 27.1%; price of cereals and cereal products increased by 25%; price of meat increased by 20.2%; prices of fish and other seafood increased by 23.7%; price of oils increased by 28.2%; prices of fruits increased by 22.1%; and the prices of vegetables, tubers, plantains increased by 23.8%.

Consequently, many workers and their families have fallen into poverty. If nothing is done about this situation many more workers and their families will suffer severe poverty in the coming months.

This is the time salaries in both the private and public sectors must be indexed to inflation in order to avoid worsening living standards among workers and their families. This is the time Ghanaian workers must be paid a living wage. This is the time government and private sector employers should acknowledge the sacrifices Ghanaian workers have been making, particularly in the last two years, to save our economy from total collapse.

At the 2022 National Labour Conference held at Nkwatia-Kwahu, which was graced by both His Excellency, The President of the Republic and His Excellency, The Vice President, social partners agreed that the Single Spine Pay Policy should be reviewed. A tripartite technical committee has since been constituted to review the policy. We urge the committee to present its report before the end of June, 2022 so that pay increase can be factored into the 2023 national budget.

We expect the committee to address the key challenges that have hindered effective implementation of the Single Spine Pay Policy. The first challenge has to do with the low levels of pay for workers on the Single Spine Salary Structure. Some public sector workers on the Single Spine Salary Structure are currently receiving salaries as low as GHS415 per month. This is woefully inadequate for any meaningful life in these difficult times.

One of the main objectives of the Single Spine Pay Policy was to ensure fairness in the reward system in the public service. After twelve years of implementation of the policy, pay differentials in the public service has worsened. We now have a situation where junior officers in some public service institutions who are not on the Single Spine Salary Structure, earn much higher salaries than senior officers on the structure. Workers on the Single Spine Salary Structure are receiving the lowest salaries compared to their counterparts on other salary structures in the public sector. The highest salary on the Single Spine Salary Structure in 2022 is GH¢7,404 per month. Some heads of public sector institutions earn more than four times this amount as basic salary, in addition to the numerous cash and non-cash benefits they are enjoying. In fact, there are some heads of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) who are earning over three times the salary of the President of the Republic even though some of the SOEs are making huge losses. Why should a chief executive officer managing a loss-making state-owned enterprise receive over three times the salary of the President of the Republic who is managing the entire country? Why?

In 2021 and 2022 when public sector workers on the Single Spine Salary Structure were offered 4% and 7% pay increments respectively, some state-owned enterprises awarded themselves over 25 percent salary increase even though their salaries are much higher on the Single Spine Salary Structure. And they did so without clearance from Fair Wages and Salaries Commission as required by Act 737 (2007). Chief executives and top management of SOEs are using public funds to pay themselves fat salaries and allowances because they know that they will not be held accountable.

On this special day, May Day, we call on H.E. President Akufo-Addo to ensure that the reward system in the entire public sector, including emoluments for Article 71 office holders and top management of state-owned enterprises, is totally overhauled.

The low level of salaries and the pay inequalities have very serious implications for workers not only when they are in active service but also when they retire. Currently, a significant number of pensioners are receiving the minimum pension of just GH¢300 per month, compared to the highest monthly pension of GH¢142,564. The lowest monthly pension as a ratio of the highest monthly pension is 1 to 475. In other words, one person's monthly pension can pay the pensions for 475 pensioners on the same social security scheme. This is simply not right.

Nearly 60 percent of all pensioners on Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT) payroll receive less than GHS1000 per month and approximately 90 percent receive less than GHS2000 per month. Life is extremely tough for retirees in Ghana, especially for those who retired under Act 766 (the current law) since January, 2020. Studies by the Labour Research and Policy Institute of TUC and African Centre for Retirement Research (ACRR) showed that about 80 percent of all those who retired in 2020 under the SSNIT pension scheme received lumpsum benefits that were inferior, compared to the benefits they would have received if they had retired under PNDC Law 247 (the old pension law]. And the majority of those who were affected were public service workers.

Mr. President, in September 2020, we appealed to you to intervene to correct this injustice. You graciously intervened and directed that the necessary computations should be done. We are aware that these computations were finalized a couple of months ago and submitted to the Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations and Ministry of Finance but the lump-sum top-ups have not been paid. Mr. President, we would like to appeal to you, once again, to come to the aid of all the retirees on the SSNIT scheme who have been shortchanged in their benefits since January 2020 as a result of the implementation of the Act 766.

The situation is worse for elderly Ghanaians who do not earn pension. It is very sad to note that out of the over 11.5 million Ghanaians in the labour force, only 1,735,880 are registered with SSNIT. It means over 9 million Ghanaians in the labour force do not have access to social security. And, as we all know, there is no income support for the aged in Ghana, despite our enormous wealth. Out of the 1.9 million Ghanaians who are 60 years or older only 288,619 are currently receiving pension from SSNIT. That is just about 15 percent of the total population of Ghanaians who are 60 years or older. It means 85 percent of the aged in Ghana (about 1.6 million old people) have to rely on their families for food, shelter, clothing, social care and healthcare. Sadly, those whose families cannot support them financially have to beg in the streets of Accra and other cities and towns across the country. Mr. President, please let us change this situation. Ghana can do better.

Now, I would like to shift our attention to employment and related issues. And here, I am talking about decent employment which guarantees decent income, decent pension, dignity, and rights at work.

Ghana has achieved a lot in the last 65 years after independence. But one important area of public policy where successive governments have failed to make progress has to do with the creation of decent jobs. Currently, just about 2 million Ghanaians have some form of decent employment, out of nearly 11.5 million people in the labour force. That means over 9 million Ghanaians are either unemployed, underemployed or they are eking out a living in the informal economy where many of them work long hours a day under very unsafe and unhealthy conditions for incomes that are below the national minimum wage. We believe that the lack of decent employment is the main reason why many Ghanaians have died in poverty and many people are still living in poverty and destitution in a country endowed with many natural resources.

It is now very clear to us that no single political party can solve the problem of joblessness in Ghana. Therefore, we need to move away from the partisan and winner-takes-all approach of dealing with the unemployment crisis and build consensus among all stakeholders on the way forward. The National Development Planning Commission (NDPC) can lead this process. Mr. President, we urge you to challenge NDPC, and provide it with the necessary resources, to develop a credible plan for the creation of decent jobs in all the 16 regions of the country. The plan must be formulated in such a way that it will be acceptable to all stakeholders, including the two major political parties (NPP and NDC) so that it can be implemented consistently, regardless of the political party in power.

Lastly, Mr. President, once again we would like to draw your attention to the spate of informalization and casualization of jobs in the formal sector of the economy, generally, and in the mining sector, in particular. Some mining companies are terminating permanent contracts and replacing them with fixed-term contracts. This practice has made some Ghanaian workers in the private sector extremely vulnerable. We appeal to you and your government to stop this bad practice. Otherwise, it will spread to other sectors of the economy. There are too many employment agencies operating in Ghana who are facilitating such practices and illegally performing the traditional roles of employers. Many workers, especially those in casual employment do not even know their true employers because of the fraudulent operations of some private employment agencies.

Government can stop this practice if the labour law is reviewed to offer adequate protection for Ghanaian workers. We repeat our call for Government to provide the necessary human, material, and financial resources to revamp the labour administration institutions including the Labour Department, Fair Wages and Salaries Commission, National Labour Commission and the Factories Inspectorate Department to perform their functions effectively.

Mr. President, Ghanaians are suffering too much. This is not the country that was envisaged by our leaders who fought with tears and blood to gain independence for us. God has endowed us with gold, diamond, forest, ocean, and other resources. Therefore, nothing can justify the high incidence of severe poverty, destitution, and suffering in sixty-five years after independence.

It is obvious that the numerous IMF programmes in Ghana did not work. The partisan approach to dealing with Ghana's problems is also not working. What we need is our own home-grown solutions supported by all the major players in the economy including the Executive, Parliament, Judiciary, workers, the business community, farmers, traders, NGOs, political parties, and civil society organisations. We are confident that, together, we can transform our economy into a more resilient and prosperous one which can provide jobs for the youth and improve standard of living in all the 16 regions of the country.

Mr. President, I would like conclude with a very special request. Given the rising cost of living, due to high inflation in the country, we would like to humbly appeal to you to use your executive powers to grant a Cost-of-Living Allowance (COLA) of at least 20 percent to all public service workers including the Armed Forces, the Police Service, the Prison Service, Immigration Service, Fire Service, and all the Security and Intelligence Agencies. The COLA must be extended to all workers in the private sector who are earning the minimum wage of GH¢13.53 per day (or GHS365 per month) and all pensioners on the SSNIT payroll who are receiving the minimum pension of GH¢300 per month. The proposed COLA will not only cushion workers and pensioners from the harsh effects of inflation but, even more importantly, it will prevent mass poverty among the working people of Ghana who are contributing so much to the development of this country. I wish you all a great May Day celebration!

Long Live Organised Labour!
Long Live International Workers' Solidarity!                                                                                                                      God Bless Ghana!