Arthur K on working people

Tue, 6 May 2014 Source: Kennedy, Arthur Kobina

Irmo, SC

6TH May, 2014

We just celebrated May Day—or more to the point, quarreled over workers. Despite the obligatory laudatory statements about the role of working people, they or we are in dire straits. Indeed, even the praises for working people are sounding hollow by the day. What is there to celebrate about taking Ghana from the ranks of the South Koreas and Malaysia’s to the ranks of Togo and Burkina Faso?

Speaking on Citifm’s “BIG ISSUES”, Edward Karewah, a leading member of the TUC, warned against the retrenchment of workers due to the constant demand for wage increment for public sector workers. The TUC spokesperson warned that “If they (government) make an attempt to carry out a retrenchment, this country is going to sink deeper and it will sink deeper to a point where we cannot control the social upheaval”. He went on to counter the popular perception that public sector workers are unproductive by stating, “Sometimes, when they talk about productivity and the rest, I just don’t understand them. Where are they coming from? You are to report to work at 8 o’clock; workers do not come, supervisors are there, managers are there, they keep quiet so why do you blame the worker? Ministers attend meetings late, managers attend meetings late, directors attend meetings late….what our leaders leave behind is what we are picking,”

There you have it. Our workers are lazy and unproductive because our leaders are!

To be candid, we define “working people” too narrowly and this accounts for our low opinion of them. Properly defined, working people include farmers, teachers, doctors , nurses and others, who are all very hardworking and productive.

Unfortunately, the TUC that has become the face of working people has over the years, been complicit in a lot of the betrayals, not just of working people but of Ghanaians in general. Here are a few of their betrayals:

• They looked on placidly as the PNDC pushed through draconian economic measures dictated by the IMF and the World Bank in the 1980’s. Indeed, as students protested these, workers were sent to attack us at KNUST and to dismiss our leaders at Legon.

• They stood by as the PNDC and later the NDC carried out “donkomi” sales of our industries to their cronies.

• They have watched as newly-employed teachers and nurses go unpaid for years after starting work.

• They have been silent on the disgraceful absence of workplace protections for workers. Indeed, when a few years ago, a firefighter died accidentally in an exercise and there was no formal death benefit for her survivors, there was hardly a whimper. I personally saw a female public health nurse who was injured while learning to ride a motor cycle as part of her job who had no benefits and hardly any care. Anywhere else in the world, the plight of these workers would have unleashed the righteous anger of workers against the bone-heads masquerading as leaders.

The sad truth is that in the 80’s , 90’s and beyond, even while workers were singing “We no go sit down”; they were lying down while our governments sold our treasures.

How can we improve the plight of working people?

First, we must have truthful information. It is astonishing that in 2012, the World Bank reported Ghana’s unemployment rate as 3.6% when that of the US and South Africa were respectively 8.1 and 25% respectively. If anyone believes such hogwash, they are insane.

Second, we must acknowledge the diversity of working people and their needs. While cocoa farmers, teachers and health workers, amongst others have carried their fair share of our burdens and deserve pay increases, others, like politicians, judges, university workers and civil servants have not.

Third, our workers must recognize that pay increases obtained by threats of strikes, paid with up to 70% of our tax revenues and unrelated to productivity will never improve our economy.

Fourth, we must recognize that governments, by and large are not effective job creators. We must establish an environment that will help private investors to create jobs and to pay living wages for more and more of our people, such that our governments will have a hard time attracting people to the public sector. We need to encourage a trend where many Ghanaian workers pay more into our public treasury than they take out.

Fifth, we must have a nationalistic foreign policy to develop. It makes little sense to permit foreign contractors or industries to bring into our country workers, at any level to fill jobs that can and should be filled by Ghanaians. Construction, oil and mining companies should not bring in foreign workers to fill jobs that Ghanaians can do.

Sixth, we must reform our educational system to produce the workforce we need instead of intelligent graduates more suited to idleness than work. It does not make sense for a nation in need of builders, electricians, agriculturalists, engineers, healers and scientists to be producing generations of “dondology” graduates at public expense who cannot fit into our economy.

Finally, we must start discussing the plight of working people in the context of our development—not our politics. A nation that is more interested in politics than development will be perpetually under-developed.

Let us move forward—together.

Arthur Kobina Kennedy

Columnist: Kennedy, Arthur Kobina