The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has asked the government not to blame the high rate of unemployment, poor remuneration and economic challenges on the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war.
It said it was a well-known fact that all those challenges were already prevalent in the country long before the challenges started.
Addressing an Organised Labour Pre-May Day Forum for this year in Accra yesterday, the Secretary-General of the TUC, Dr Anthony Yaw Baah, said although the TUC acknowledged that COVID-19 and the Russia-Ukraine impasse had compounded those challenges, it was not right for the government to blame the age-long employment challenges on the two.
The forum was on the theme: “Protecting jobs and incomes in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.”
Government officials, including Vice-President Dr Mahamudu Bawumia, have, in recent times, blamed rising inflation, the depreciation of the cedi, among others, on the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war.
The TUC Secretary-General said it was no secret that remuneration for majority of workers had been bad for many years and the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine impasse could not take the blame.
“That is so because a reduction in exchange rates results in frequent rise in the prices of goods and services, since most of these products are imported with foreign exchange. This phenomenon affects the value of workers’ remuneration,” Dr Baah, who is also a labour economist, said.
“Inflation is another issue — the prices of goods and services are going up and so if salaries are not adjusted to reflect these phenomena, then workers will continue to struggle.
“The job crisis did not start with Ukraine. It predates the Ukrainian war; it came before the COVID-19 and, therefore, we think it is not right to blame Ukrainian war and COVID-19 for every job crisis we have in this country,” he added.
Dr Baah underscored the need for the government to collaborate with its partners to find long-lasting solutions to the unemployment challenges and other labour issues affecting the country.
On members’ welfare, he said the TUC had dialogued with the government and employers to negotiate better conditions of service for members.
He said for almost five years, the union had been negotiating salary increment, but last year the government said it could only offer between four and seven per cent increment, far below inflation rates.
However, he said, certain groups of workers received between 25 and 30 per cent increments during the same period, far higher than the inflation rate, stressing that the situation would no longer be acceptable.
“We will not accept those percentages in 2022 and beyond. Remuneration must reflect the inflation rate. If we speak and the government and employers do not hear us, then we will do what unions do,” the TUC Secretary-General stated.
He said the disparity was not fair because it favoured a few over the majority.
“Inflation has devalued the salaries of majority of workers and so we are asking the government and employers to raise salaries to reflect inflation rates. As a result, this year’s minimum wage negotiation is a do-or-die affair,” Dr Baah stressed.
He said the process had started with the submission of the names of the technical members to the government for the technical process to start ahead of the actual negotiation.
“We hardly embark on strike because it is a very difficult thing to do. It is like war, so before we declare war, we have to make sure we have a good reason,” Dr Baah said, adding: “This time we have a good reason to do this.”
He said workers in the country were suffering too much and labour should not allow that to continue.
Dr Baah said the TUC had, for the past 30 years, decided to rely a lot more on dialogue to address challenges, instead of fighting and talking its way through.
He said it was the reason the government always wanted to talk with the TUC, saying that, unfortunately, when the TUC spoke, the government listened but did not hear.
“And this is the time we have to change this; this is the time we must ensure that we just don’t talk but that they listen and hear. If the government pretends not to hear us because it pretends to be sleeping, then we should do what trade unions do,” he stated.