The Ghana Trades Union Congress can do better (Part II)

Thu, 22 May 2014 Source: Bokor, Michael J. K.

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Monday, May 19, 2014

Since the establishment of the Ghana Trades Union TUC) under the Nkrumah government, its leaders have in one way or the other created impressions that they are either pro-government (meaning that they are against the interests of the very workers that they are in office to redeem from the government’s unsuitable attitude to remuneration and working conditions, generally) or for workers (that they support efforts to improve working conditions for the good of workers, damn the repercussions).

And the history of the TUC shows that its leaders have suffered or gained from the vicissitudes of the situation, depending on how the political pendulum swung. Those in the good books of the government laughed all the way to the bank and ended up as Ambassadors or High Commissioners upon leaving office. Those disfavoured had to run for cover to save their skins.

John Tetegah (someone I fondly remember for acknowledging my worth in Moscow, Russia, in 1987) exemplified the cross-pollination that productive labour relations work entails. Anthony Yankey too comes to mind. Others may also be recalled for special mention, depending on how they used their offices to either uplift or downgrade the status of the Ghanaian worker. And Ebo Tawiah was even a high-ranking member of Rawlings’ PNDC.

Ghanaian workers are classified into two: those in the private sector and those in the public sector (on government payroll because they are in the public service, Ministries, Departments, and Agencies that thrive on government subvention, derived from the Consolidated Fund).

The public sector workers are always at the beck and call of either their leaders or sympathizers in government. Theirs is a dicey situation of ups-and-downs, more often with the downs! The spate of industrial actions (currently by Polytechnic Teachers Association of Ghana, National Association of Graduate Teachers, and others) says it all. It is perennial and ritualistic. Those who know how to play their cards benefit from such situations, though.

And mushroom associations claiming to represent the interest of workers emerge every day. Take this one, for instance: National Association of Unemployed Graduates!! And it has also found a perch because the politicians critical of the incumbent have been quick to rope them into their narrow scope of partisan “rogue” politics. Anything labour-oriented seems to have traction!

Workers in the private sector are tied to “philanthropists” whose businesses they gravitate toward and seem not to have a fixed destiny. Everything depends on the whims and caprices (even the temper or mood of the employer or anybody who can pull strings to determine their fate).

Whether public or private, everything is tied to one thing: the daily minimum wage that makes or mars the individual worker’s lifestyle.

In Ghana, the minimum daily wage regimen seems to transfix emoluments. Thus, the private sector is required to toe the line, even though those who know how to play their cards can always outwit the system and still be on their feet because their “political connections” will keep them in good stead. Woe betide those without political connections!!

And the workers’ leaders also have political connections with which to do things for weal or for woe.

A few friends at the TUC headquarters told me in those when I was a reporter at the Ghana News Agency in Accra that all that their labour or union leaders knew how to do was to breathe hot air concerning strike actions and then snuggle close to the power-that-be for some "packages" to cushion themselves.

Clearly, allegations of bribery and abuse of power are levelled against workers’ leaders, which dooms them. It turns out to be a huge irony of fate, then.

I remember very well the days of Napoleon Kpoh of the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union and all others at the TUC headquarters who knew how to play their cards and could “make it” just by blowing hot air down the spine of employers and government. And in turbulent political situations, they profited from such manouevres.

This kind of industrial/labour relations work for personal gain has been the order at the TUC (national, regional) all these years. If you doubt it, don’t insult me. Just do your own independent groundwork to know what I have known all these years. Then, you will come back to enrich the conversation on how the politics going on in/between organized labour, government/employers should be done.

Even the workers' monetary contributions forwarded to the TUC headquarters are not accounted for. There was a Denis Vormawor who moved to invest workers' contributions in a venture that hasn't benefited workers. No worker has even dared find out how the investment stands today. Who is asking for any accountability?

There is much for Ghanaians workers and their leaders to do if they want to rise above the perennial ritualistic approaches to seeking improved relations with their employers for mutual benefits.

I shall return…

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Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.