Do staff want to and know how to work in Ghana?

Protesting ECG Workers Over Privatization file photo

Tue, 4 Apr 2017 Source: Nico van Staalduinen

Sometimes I write based upon recent events, but I also write about things I see and hear and things relating to my educational or professional back ground.

This time I write out of frustration.

I have the wellbeing of Ghana and Ghanaians at heart, proof of that is my assuming Ghanaian nationality and frankly there is no other country in the world where I prefer to live (or die). I used local content and local produced materials 15 years before both outcries for it became relevant to most Ghanaians.

But I have to admit to my fellow Ghanaians, that especially Ghanaian employees and service providers don’t make it easy for me. My wife a born and bred Ghanaian has given up long time, but I am not that easy, I hardly ever give up on my goals, targets and dreams.

Where does my frustration come from?

My frustration comes from workers, employees or however you will call them and people who are providing services like; mechanics, plumbers, carpenters, masons, and security guards but also shop attendants, petrol station attendants and many others.

I always hear captains of Industry, employers and owners of companies complaining about high levels of taxes, lack of electricity, too expensive electricity, bad roads to their companies, bureaucracy, corruption and everything else.

But they are always carefully avoiding one subject: the quality of our workforce. In general (but there are exceptions) the Ghanaian worker doesn’t care about the quality of his job, and doesn’t have any feeling for his profession nor his customer/client. Sometimes they show a total apathy to work and just aim to dragging themselves to the end of the week, simply because they need an income.

In Europe there is a saying for people with low ambition: “his only planning is to go to work and come home tired”, but in Ghana I mostly have the feeling that coming home tired is not part of our workers plan. It made it almost impossible to employ an honest hardworking, motivated person in Ghana!

Not only our soft cultural behavior, mostly coming down to not calling a spade a spade, a politeness, strong unions and high will and participation to strike against almost everything increasing production, a judicial system that fights tooth and nail for rights of employees, 50 years of almost total neglect of skills based education, lack respect of a well trained worker and low morals in general have created a very low quality workforce in Ghana.

I have worked with employees in the hospitality sector, printing and news sector, NGO’s, construction and several other sectors and the employees are mostly not fit for their job.

I read an article a few weeks ago, “China’s unfair competition for Ghana”.

I reacted and wrote: Why? Is it because a Chinese employee will work 6 days a week with his wife and children, goes 1 week a year on a holiday, (if he goes, mostly he doesn’t) and works dedicated and hard to deliver, even without supervision? That’s than an easy answer for me, so if a Ghanaian also does the same that would make it fair competition isn’t it?

Or do we expect the Chinese to come late (or not at all) when it rains, show up late (or not at all) after a public holiday, arrive standard late at work, work officially 5 days, but are there indeed 5 days but don’t really work, ask days off for the many funerals to attend, would that make Chinese competition fair?

The reason I got frustrated (this time) is the following:

My wife is running a construction company and 2 months ago had to fire her crew of 7 workers because we found out that whilst she was working, friends of her workers robbed our house. She called a friend in Accra and he said he could send masons and laborers. He had plenty workers because there was not much work in Accra. On Monday they showed up 2 hours and 20 minutes late to start, but instead of starting to work, they all needed to eat first.

After eating, they were all walking with their full bellies looking like they were not really in the mood to start. As you will understand they know exactly when lunch time started and took an hour break after which my wife had to push them to start again. By 1.20 instead of 1 she had everybody going but the next day she discovered that after she left at 4 the workers also had immediately stopped.

This went on for a few weeks, in which they worked an average of 6 to 6 and half hours a day, telling my wife this is heavy work so they don’t work 8 hours. Than a national holiday, actually falling in the weekend was celebrated on a Monday. As every Ghanaian will understand (little bit more difficult for me because of my Dutch background) 5 out of our 7 workers didn’t show up, because of celebrating, 1 came on time and 1 of them showed up 1 hour later, complaining that he had to walk all the way to the work side because my wife didn’t wait for him.

To cut a long story short, my wife sacked all of them; naturally they left with most of the tools we provided, which is called stealing in the rest of the world, but we got used to that. My wife managed to get a new group altogether, or actually tried twice to get a new group, the first group didn’t show up, the second group postponed 1 day, but because she simply didn’t have a choice she accepted that and work finally started again.

I am, besides my daily job running a guesthouse, and my workers are mostly on time.

However I have some other small problems, like stealing and lying and as a result of that I had to lay off 4 crews of 3 girls in 2 years.

Tea, milk, jam, soap, cutlery, glasses and cups but also towels and even bed sheets are disappearing in no time. I admire my girls for their team spirit because even if all of them know who had stolen something they all declare they don’t know.

I recently lay off another girl who I caught sleeping on the job (this time without a guest) and my “trusted” worker with me for over 6 years declared without blinking his eyes that he never knew the girl is sleeping and watching TV during working hours regularly.

This problem is definitely not a high class lower class problem, foreign and local nor black or white problem because most of my Ghanaian and some of my foreign friends (maybe not all of them understand employees tactics) all complain about low quality of work done, laziness, lying, stealing and low moral towards work of the Ghanaian workforce.

The public sector is not different, lying stealing, low work performance, absence and on top of this all corruption.

To me the most annoying thing in the behavior of workers is the fact that when you complain about this behavior and low quality of a service provided, they react in a way that you should rather be grateful that they came to provide you the service. Let me end with one example.

I am quite handy myself and although not trained in plumbing, I can easily say that I am a better plumber than most people in Ghana calling themselves a plumber (I used 9 different plumbers over the past 10 years). The outlet of my toilet was leaking and I was simply not in the mood to do it myself, so I called a recommended plumber. After breaking one of the tiles behind the toilet and putting all back together he stated that he “fixed” the problem. But when I put the water pressure back on and flashed my toilet I found out that not only my toilet outlet was still leaking, but now also my water supply was leaking. He was polite said sorry and started all over and when we tested again this time he solved the outlet leaking but the water inlet was still leaking. Trying to fix that he spoiled the float valve inside which needed to be replaced and when I finally started complaining he left and insulted me because he was doing his best to help and I should respect him for that instead of complaining about everything, he left without being paid, but called later that I owe him 2 days pay.

To cut this long story short, last Saturday I removed the toilet, replaced the broken tile, put in a new float valve and connected all to the outlet and to the water inlet in about 2 hours and not to my surprise there were no leakages.

The result I am expecting from this article?

I hope that my article will trigger an open minded discussion in Ghana so we can all think about ways to tackle this problem, through education but also through informing our youth and training them in ways to work, like the rest of the competitive world because with this type of mentality towards work developing Ghana will be a difficult task, for this and any government to come.

I also hope that the Government of Ghana realizes that we need to train skills among our youth and pay attention to attitude change. Because when I calculate roughly what our society is losing in its attempts protecting ourselves against stealing, robbery and our general safety, I estimate that, that alone almost doubles labor costs in Ghana.

The costs of loss of materials due to wrongful use, spoiling of materials and tools due to unprofessional use is many times higher than that and we urgently need to extend our skills training to become competitive.

Ghanaians among you who have traveled have seen the differences abroad are complaining about exactly the same things as I, a new Ghanaian is complaining about.

I will always remain positive, and I am sure we can improve, but we need a lot of help of other positive thinking Ghanaians to fulfill this enormous task.

My last remark: I hope no foreigner is reading this because it is a message to Ghanaians and not meant for foreigners.

Columnist: Nico van Staalduinen