Strike by organized labour: For every worker, a good future

Country Opinion Icon

Sat, 25 Oct 2014 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor Friday, October 24, 2014 As usual, folks, the perennial ritual of strikes have begun being performed all over the country as organized labour obeyed the voice of the leadership of the TUC to lay down their tools. All over the country, then, the industrial action is in full swing.

This time, the motivation for the strike is not salary-related nor does it have anything directly to do with working /service conditions. It has a lot to do with pensions! The news report citing the TUC leadership as supporting the workers’ industrial action revealed the cause:

“The Trade Union Congress (TUC) has cited government's "lackadaisical attitude" to workers' concerns regarding their second tier pension scheme as the cause of an indefinite strike declared by unionised workers in Ghana. In a press statement issued Thursday, the umbrella organisation for trade union activities in the country said it fully supports the workers action since it will bring an end to interference by government in activities of the National Pensions Regulatory Authority (NPRA), the legal authority mandated to regulate pensions.

The statement signed by its General Secretary, Kofi Asamoah, also stated government must withdraw "attempts to impose Pensions Trust Alliance as a corporate trustee to manage the second tier pension funds for public sector workers"—a stance unionised workers have held since 2012. More than 10 labour unions declared an indefinite strike on Tuesday demanding that government allows them to manage the tier two of their pension scheme.

The second tier pension scheme is mandatory and aimed at providing workers higher lump sum benefits than previously available under the Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT). Although it is expected to be managed privately, the striking workers maintain government must not single-handedly select a company to manage the funds.” (See: https://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/NewsArchive/artikel.php?ID=331895) MY COMMENTS I can see the trend and make connections. Just as happened in the case of the government’s decision to replace the book and research allowances for lecturers at the tertiary institutions with a National Research and Innovation Fund, which provoked POTAG and UTAG to go on a long strike, so is it with the TUC too in this case of the government’s proposed Pensions Trust Alliance to manage workers’ pension. In the case of UTAG and POTAG, the government was forced to bend back. The lecturers won and the government lost face. That happening has its own political capital.

The action by organized labour has more serious implications, particularly because of the harsh consequences to the citizens and the system itself. Activities in the institutions/workplaces affected by this strike have been disrupted and the government is on everyone’s lips. Will the government eat back its own vomit this time too? Another occasion for political capital. What will this Pensions Trust Alliance do that the existing National Pensions Regulatory Authority (NPRA) has not been able to do or cannot do to secure funds for retired workers?

Broadly speaking, I think that the government is miscalculating issues and sending itself to the slaughter house. I find it difficult to understand why it won’t do the right thing when most needed. Why couldn’t the government consult the stakeholders, particularly organized labour, once it conceived the idea of establishing the Pensions Trust Alliance? Why didn’t consultation and negotiation precede the imposition of this Pensions Trust Alliance? Had the government involved the stakeholders in efforts to streamline the administration of pensions, some compromise might have been reached to avert this ugliness on the labour scene. Folks, it is unbecoming for the government to do things this way. It is clear that when such moves backfire, they hurt the government’s interests.

All these hiccups reinforce apprehensions that our democracy is weakening instead of growing to improve governance. One expects that in a democracy, an atmosphere of give-and-take should prevail, not this irritatingly persistent top-down manner of handling important issues.

It is obvious that happenings over the years have already angered workers to the point where they are likely to explode at the poke of a finger. And we recall the measures taken by previous governments to whittle down benefits of workers. The Rawlings government abolished their end-of-service benefits while retaining same for government functionaries (including Rawlings himself).

Kufuor reinforced that abolition but sought to enjoy the best end-of-service benefit package at the end of his tenure. The late Mills didn’t do anything about the matter; neither has the Mahama-led administration. So, the end-of-service benefits that workers had been enjoying before Rawlings abolished that package is gone and gone forever. Angry moments can’t be avoided.

Then, Cap 30 also vanished for public sector workers; I hear it is still being enjoyed by the Police and the military personnel. Public sector workers were mandatorily wrapped up in the SSNIT Pension Scheme, which is no relief. Indeed, workers fear that scheme more than love it. They are wary of the complications involved and the fact that they virtually leave the service with nothing to justify the many years of their sacrifice to the country. Upon retirement, they end up being paupers and die with bitterness in their hearts.

The management of SSNIT doesn’t do things to assure workers that their contributions are “safe” or being managed for good returns for them to benefit from. They have invested funds in projects that end up yielding benefits for faceless people to enjoy while workers languish in excruciating poverty. How many times haven’t we been told of things going awry with SSNIT investments or the plain thievery of funds by the unscrupulous elements in charge of SSNIT? Beyond this point too lies the hell, which is the painful road a retiree has to walk to be able to access pension. Anybody who knows what happens at the Pensions Office (if that is still its name) will understand me. Common files of applicants get missing anyhow; obnoxious pressure is put on applicants to grease palms before their files/documents are processed; the hassle of going to and from that office alone is enough to “kill” the applicants.

Meantime, the authorities behave as if all is well in the administration of pension. The government cannot plug holes; its functionaries responsible for employment and labour issues are incompetent and more interested in angering workers than taking them on board to solve problems.

You see, folks, although some of us don’t support industrial actions as tools for exacting beneficial conditions of service, we have no other option but to sympathize with the workers and urge them to use strikes as the last resort. In this case, the workers have a genuine fear about their future lives and can’t be faulted. If what they are putting aside for life in retirement cannot be managed properly, what hope will they have for the future?

While not faulting the workers now on strike, it is worth noting, however, that anybody who injects partisan politics into happenings will be making a sad mistake. That is why I will caution political opponents of the government to tread cautiously because what is happening today isn’t restricted to the Mahama-led government’s doorsteps. Almost all the governments that have ruled Ghana since independence have had their tug-of-war sessions with organized labour.

Any narrow-minded politician who may jump on board to pull strings in the vain hope of using this event to tarnish the government’s image had better think twice because the systemic problems provoking the industrial actions will continue to endanger the relationship between the government and organized labour, especially as the economy remains stagnant. I wonder how such politicians can turn things around when it is their turn to be in power to make the difference.

But generally speaking, the government has itself to blame for the current industrial action by organized labour. It needs to cultivate better ways of handling issues that have a huge bearing on life. Can those in authority not see the difference between a democracy and what led to this 4th Republic in Ghana? I shall return… • E-mail: mjbokor@yahoo.com • Join me on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/mjkbokor to continue the conversation.

Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.