By Akwasi Prempeh.
The P/NDC and NPP are essentially two sides of the same coin – and the value is the same: anti-labour movement and the destruction of the capacity-building process the CPP administration had put in place for human capital formation of Ghana. The outcome of this anti-worker stance of the P/NDC and NPP administrations has been the out-migration of highly skilled and highly educated Ghanaians to other African countries, Europe and North America; impoverishment of the masses of the people to the benefit some few rich people – the ugly divide of the country into the few wealthy and the majority poor; and the intensification of the economic divide between the north and south portions of the country.
The anti-worker stance of the NPP and the P/NDC administrations date back to the attempts of the Daquah-Busia tradition to destroy the Ghana Trades Union Congress (TUC). The TUC was formed in 1945 when 14 unions came together under a central coordinating body. When the NLC (the CIA cronies) assumed power in the 1966, the NLC systematically adopted anti-worker policies to erode the power of the labour movement.
The TUC was to suffer an even more serious setback with the return to civilian rule in 1969. The Busia-led Progress Party (PP), which won the 1969 elections, had been in opposition to the CPP before and after independence. It was not known to be a natural ally of workers and their unions. Indeed the claim was made that many of the party's leaders had “a class-based disdain for union leaders.”
There was soon to be cause for confrontation between the Busia government and the TUC. At the third biennial congress of the TUC held in August 1970, a resolution was passed calling for a 100 per cent increase in the minimum wage (from ₡ 0.75 to ₡ 1.50). The request was turned down by the Busia government as unreasonable and potentially inflationary. Given the initial mutual suspicions, and fearing that a national strike might be called to support the demand for an increase in the minimum wage, the Busia government decided to strike first at the TUC. On 13 September 1971, under a certificate of urgency, Parliament passed the Industrial R elations (Amendment) Act 1971 (Act 383) to replace the Industrial Relations Act 1965 (Act 229). The new Act dissolved the TUC with immediate effect and empowered the government to appoint a board of receivers to dispose of all the properties of the TUC. The new Act also abolished the check-off system for collecting membership dues to fund the TUC.
The Busia government argued that the TUC, as set up by the Industrial Relations Act of 1965 was undemocratic and an infringement on the rights of workers to associate freely. The new Act 383, therefore, in addition to dissolving the TUC provided that: “Any group of trade unions shall have the right to constitute themselves into any association, federation, confederation or congress of trade unions for the attainment of their common aims .” There ca n be no doubt that the primary motivation for introducing the Industrial Relations Act of 1971 was to disorganize and weaken the labour movement. However, the government was able to claim that the Act of 1971 was for the “purposes of protecting the rights or freedoms of other persons in terms of the spirit of the constitution.”
Meanwhile the formation of a new Ghana Confederation of Labour (GCL), which appeared to have the progress Party's blessing, signaled the makings of a union split roughly along moderate-militant lines. The GCL had in fact been set up by four non-TUC unions (claiming 33,000 members) in August prior to the passage of the new Act in September, but this matter of timing in no way lessened the suspicions of its opponents that the GCL was a government puppet.
Soon after the passage of Act 383, J. H. Mensah warned that any strike action initiated by the Bentum or other TUC leaders would be regarded as politically motivated and therefore illegal. Even though the TUC's 17 member unions resolved to form a new federation with Bentum as Secretary-general, they were aware that this body had no guarantee of registration under the yet unstated terms in the Act 383. Act 383 was repealed when Acheampong military regime gave the Busia administration the boot. The PNDC that transformed itself into NDC did not treat labour unions any better. The P/NDC administration by adopting the IMF/World Bank mandated ERP and SAP programmes introduced labour retrenchment policies through privatization and trade liberalization as an attack on workers. The P/NDC assault on organized labour started in 1982. On April 29, 1982, with the tacit support of the PNDC, the Greater Accra-based Association of Local Unions (ALU) led thousands of workers to besiege the TUC headquarters in Accra and declare the suspension of the constitutions of the TUC and the national unions and dissolve the executive board of the TUC and the national executive councils of the 17 affiliated national unions. Between 1982 and 1983, the entire leadership of the TUC was suspended and an Interim Management Committee was established by the Association of Local Unions (ALU) of the Greater Accra region with the tacit support of the PNDC. After a congress was held to re-establish the legality of the TUC, the PNDC was to make sure that the TUC leadership would not be militant. But by 1984, the TUC had come out against the main elements of the IMF/World Bank-sponsored structural adjustment programmes.
The PNDC launched ideological attacks on the TUC leadership. At the TUC congress of March 1988 at Cape Coast, the PNDC member in charge of security, Kojo Tsikata warned the TUC of the risk of electing a militant leadership. By May Day 1988, the TUC leadership had been cajoled into supporting the PNDC and its suffocating economic programmes of ERP and structural adjustment. At the 1988 May Day rally, A. K. Yankey, the TUC secretary-general declared that “the TUC supports the economic programmes of the PNDC.
The subsequent decline in employment that resulted from the ERP and SAP programmes was due to two main factors. The first was increased competition from imported goods, and the inability of some manufacturers to face this competition. Electrical equipment, textiles, clothing and leather goods were particularly hard hit by the very strong competition from imports. The second factor was the retrenchment of labour in the public sector. An estimated 73,000 workers were retrenched from 1987 onwards under the Civil Service Reform Programme. Another 100,000 workers are estimated to have been retrenched from the Ghana Cocoa Board from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s. The layoffs caused insecurity among workers about their future employment prospects. With respect to income s, it is a fact that wage restraint has been a constant feature of the reform programme. Wage restraint has continued to be the constant feature of the IMF/World Bank mandated programmes such as ERP, SAP, HIPC that P/NDC and NPP administrations have implemented since 1983.
The most violent attack the PNDC's structural adjustment programmes on trade union rights was the attack on the security of employment and the right to work. The attack was unleashed in the form massive labour lay-offs. Formal sector jobs had 235,000 workers retrenched between 1985 and 1990. A TUC survey of 2001 put the number of unionized workers in the country at 351,487 after years of two-pronged assault on workers: liberalization and privatization. This number represented about 50% reduction in TUC membership that was estimated at about 750,000 in 1987.
These anti-worker policies have been intensified under the NPP administration since 2001 through its IMF/World Bank mandated HIPC and privatization and liberalization programmes. In his May Day message to workers in 2008, Nana Akufo Adda declared:
“Since the advent of the NPP administration, it has made the lives of working people better, much better than before. First, we passed the Labour Act of 2003 that consolidated many laws, some dating from 1965. The new law consolidated the old laws in conformity with the Constitution of the 4th Republic and ILO Conventions. It also established the National Labour Commission to promote co-operation between Labour and Management and provide for effective dispute resolution.”
The Labour Act of 2003, Act 651 throws up a challenge for organized labour. The attempt by ICU to break away from the TUC makes one wonder whether Act 651 is a throw-back to Act 383 of the Busia era that sought to break up organized labour in Ghana. The Health Workers Group (HWG) within the public health sector recently disassociated itself from the newly formed Health Workers Association of the Nation (HWAN) that identified itself as being aligned to the New Patriotic Party (NPP) at the Kasoa rally by the NPP.
The Labour of 2003, Act 651 has been enacted in a period when a number of new enterprises in the private sector, especially mining and the free enterprise zone companies are not keen on their workers forming or joining unions. Some of the new enterprises have resorted to outsourcing to private contractors aspects of their non-core activities. The non-core activities mostly outsourced include catering, transport, and security. For example, many privatized enterprises that used to run large fleets of buses for their workers now have outsourced such transportation to private contractors, rendering drivers and mechanics that ran the company buses redundant. The private contractors are usually not keen to have their workers join or form unions.
Both the Ghana Employers' Association (GEA) and organised labour have called for a review and amendments to the Labour Act 2003 (Act 651) to remove ambiguities in sections that are not in the interest of industrial peace. In a statement signed by the Public Affairs of the National Labour Commission (NLC) at a maiden forum of the Commission, areas in the Act 651 identified for amendment include sections of the law on unionization of workers, certification of trade unions as bargaining agents and termination of employment by employers. The NLC itself has been under-funded by the NPP administration since its establishment. Organized labour unions have indicated that in the ambiguous environment created by Act 651 some employers have behaved in manner that suggested that the rights of workers to unionize should be subject to the permission of the employer. This behavior of the employer could lead to worker frustration and strikes with dire consequences for the economy as a whole.
The NPP has shown its lack of empathy for the working class people by enunciating its survival of the fittest ideology of “property owning democracy.” When Nana Akufo-Addo addressed the TUC on August 12, 2008, he's reported to have said: “the challenges faced by working people in our society are clear; - low wages - lack of safety on the job - inadequate benefits and pensions.” Nana clearly showed his lack of empathy to Ghanaian workers by failing to address one of workers' most import concern – job security. It is this lack of expressed empathy, some would say a disregard, for values of equity and social justice in the philosophy of “property owning democracy” which is worrisome. This lack of empathy or disregard for values of equity and social justice of the P/NDC and NPP administrations must be contrasted with the policies of the CPP as outlined in the Seven Year Development Plan as follows:
“The security of the worker is often erroneously equated with subsidies, unemployment and sick benefits and other “free” social services. The fact is that for the average worker the central element in his security is assured employment. It is more important for him to have a steady job than to get a dole when he is unemployed. It is more important that steady employment is assured to him from the time he comes of working age till the time he retires, and that in the meantime his sons and daughters are also educated and trained so that they are able to take regular and profitable employment than that he can look forward to a small pension.”
From the quote above one can clearly see that P/NDC and NPP are not about to ensure the average worker of Ghana his/her security through ensured employment. The security of the worker is what the CPP guarantees in its 2008 manifesto, “New Dawn, New Vision.” The CPP has promised to launch the Ghana Emergency Employment Programme (GEEP) to directly create over 500,000 well-paying jobs in bio-fuel industry not only address the high unemployment problem of the country, but it will also help meet our energy requirements with ripple effect of contributing to the growth of other industries.
The half-baked and reactionary measures of “poverty reduction strategies” adopted and implemented by the P/NDC and NPP administrations are nothing but dole outs to temporary assuage the badly shattered self image of the Ghanaian worker.
The implication for the country as a result of these anti-worker policies of the P/NDC and NPP administrations has been destruction of attempts to develop the human resource potential of the country through meaningful and secure employment and attendant opportunities for on-the-job training and improvements in labour productivity. The P/NDC and NPP have destroyed efforts to build local labour capacity for sustainable development of the country.
The TUC cuts across the troublesome ethnic, political, and religious divides in a multi-ethnic and multicultural society like Ghana. Besides, the TUC was very instrumental in the figh for political independence of the country. The location of the unions in crucial sectors of the economy and their presence in urban administrative centres make union struggles an important aspect of national policy making as the unions constitute a significant organized voice in the Ghanaian civil society.
For their anti-worker positions, the NPP and the P/NDC ought to be rejected by the electorate in the coming December elections. It is hoped that a CPP administration in 2009 will make it possible for CPP and the unions to work together, as they did in the 1950s and 1960s to develop and implement labor and national development policy alternatives that will take Ghana out of the present state of dependence on World Bank, IMF and the so-called donors who hang odious debts on the neck of Mother Ghana.