Business News of 2014-07-21

Unions ramp up pressure on gov’t

Workers from both the public and private sectors will embark on a protest on Thursday to register anger and dissatisfaction with the management of the economy.

Announcing the event at a press conference last Friday in Accra, the Secretary-General of the Trades Union Congress -- the umbrella body of 18 affiliate unions -- Kofi Asamoah, noted that the economic situation has moved from bad to worse and is deteriorating by the day.

Mr. Asamoah recounted that on July 14 this year, Organised Labour issued a press statement in which it denounced the astronomical increases in the prices of petroleum products and warned of its intention to use all legitimate means to express in the strongest possible terms workers’ disapproval of not only the current pricing regime for fuel and other utilities but, equally important, the prevailing bad economic and social conditions in the country.

“In these difficult economic and social times, workers have nobody to turn to but government. Indeed, government must take responsibility and act appropriately,” he reiterated.

Mr. Asamoah invoked the Directive Principles of State Policy under Article 36(1) of the Constitution, arguing that the import of the clause is that “the state in formulating economic policies must consider their social implications to ensure that they are socially sensitive and mitigate the suffering of the poor, underemployed and the unemployed, including the youth and other vulnerable groups in our society”.

Contrary to this, he said, government has consistently increased utility tariffs, prices of petroleum products and implemented a number of measures and policies without recourse to their social impact on the people.

“There have also been no provisions to mitigate their effects,” he lamented. For instance, he said, the ex-pump price of petrol has gone up by 44.21 percent since January 2014, but no mitigating measures have been instituted to cushion the poor and vulnerable in society.

Workers, he said, celebrated May Day under the theme, “Ghana’s Economy; A Concern for All”, demonstrating that they care about the nation’s economy.

“And as a demonstration of workers’ preparedness` to work with government to come out of the prevailing economic and social malaise, public sector unions, against all economic and social logic, agreed to a meagre 10 percent Cost of living Allowance (COLA) instead of pay increases.

“Sadly, this COLA has been eaten up by taxes, levies, fees and other increases surprisingly introduced at the same time and accompanied by persistent and rapid depreciation of the cedi against other major currencies.”

He listed a litany of problems -- continuous depreciation of the cedi, rising prices while nominal incomes stagnate leading to a drastic fall in real incomes, rising business cost while local industries suffocate – which have cost jobs, killed businesses and increased unemployment.

He went on to accuse government of continually withdrawing subsidies and abolishing long-established allowances.

“The National Health Insurance Scheme is under financial stress, the national pensions scheme is in a confused and deplorable state, and policymakers have looked on while the Tema Oil Refinery (TOR), a strategic national asset, dies slowly, leaving Ghanaians at the mercy of Bulk Distribution Companies (BDC) who are manipulating the situation.

“The rail sector has been allowed to collapse and a prognosis of the economy demonstrates that times are really hard for majority of Ghanaians.”

He said unions demand immediate action to halt the depreciation of the cedi, immediate policy initiatives and measures to ensure the requisite infrastructure, including putting on-stream the gas pipeline and efficiency in the distribution of electricity and water.

They are also calling for an immediate downward review of petroleum product prices, effective policy measures to ensure TOR is operational, immediate action to address challenges in the implementation of the pension scheme, and measures to curb the widespread perception of corruption in high office among a host of others.

Government however has appealed to workers to “reconsider their decision and engage government in constructive dialogue and consultations with a view to addressing the issues raised within the constraints of the national budget and the overall performance of the economy.”

Source: B&FT
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