A piece of my mind: The Ghanaian worker; an underappreciated resource

Ghana, from independence especially, was destined to chart a path of rapid development and prosperity that would trickle down to the ordinary Ghanaian worker, most of all...

Ghana, from independence especially, was destined to chart a path of rapid development and prosperity that would trickle down to the ordinary Ghanaian worker, most of all. We appear to have gone off that radar, however, like a blip that suddenly vanishes off a monitoring panel. That is why today I trace the root of how an economy can shore up workers' fortunes and boost the minimum wage - which also points to why our leaders ought to be doing much better with our economy if the Ghanaian worker's concerns really are at heart for them.

It is a fact that during the reign of President Nkrumah, major developmental projects took place in Ghana. And if anything at all, it is only Governor Guggisburg, who ruled Ghana on behalf of the British circa 1925 and who built the Korle-bu Hospital, the Achimota College, railway lines between Kumasi, Accra and Takoradi, roads and so on, who could come anywhere close to the pace at which President Nkrumah developed Ghana. The economic legacies of President Nkrumah include the building of the Tema township, the Accra-Tema Motorway, the Komfo Anokye Hospital in Kumasi, the University of Science and Technology, the University of Cape Coast, Polytechnics and Secondary Schools around the country, the Akosombo Dam, the Adome bridge and so on. And the economy of Ghana, though suffering later, benefited and still continues to benefit immensely from such projects that were initiated. In recent times some politicians have pointed to the gains, present and future, to be secured from infrastructural development; others have pooh-poohed the idea, only to perform a pirouette and turn to it. The fact is this: no country has developed its economy without an accompanying development of its infrastructural base and we seriously need to address such national needs as we seek to better the lot of the Ghanaian worker.

We all agree that a country's economy is a major driving force toward a high minimum wage. That explains why while speaking to the Executive Secretary of the National Labour Commission, Mr. Ofosu Asamoah, yesterday, on Workers' Day, he said to me that the Tripartite Committee made up of the Ministry for Employment and Labour Relations whose head chairs that committee and represents the government front, together with the Ghana Employers’ Association and the Trades Union Congress, cannot peg the minimum wage at a figure higher than what government, the primary employer of the most people in the type of economy we run, can bear.

But how much has changed, really? In 2017, as Ghana celebrated Workers' Day on the theme: "Mobilising for Ghana’s Future through the creation of Decent Jobs," The Secretary General of the Ghana Trades Union Congress (GTUC), Dr Yaw Baah, attributed the hydra-headed socio-economic challenges bedevilling the country to economic mismanagement. He made mention of how many Ghanaians had already lost hope in the future but also expressed some optimism about there being light at the end of the tunnel - that it was not too late to chart another path that would take the country out of the shackles of hopelessness to a path of greatness full of hope and prosperity. Addressing hundreds of workers at the Black Star Square in Accra to commemorate the 2017 May Day celebration, Dr Baah spoke about how joblessness among the youth was a great challenge facing the country in spite of Ghana’s enormous wealth. After 60 years of independence, he said, a significant number of Ghanaians could not afford decent housing, education and basic healthcare for their children. He also referred to a recent labour force survey conducted by the Ghana Statistical Service (GSS) which revealed that many workers in Ghana still received what he described as “slave wages, with some compelled to work under poor conditions.” Sadly, these are the prevailing circumstances, even today.

What is the story of the Ghanaian worker when it comes to remuneration? Going down memory lane once more, we see that in 1963 the nominal daily minimum wage was pegged at 0.65 old cedis at a time when the cedi-dollar rate was 1 to 0.71. This was the case until 1966. In 1967 the minimum wage shot up marginally to 0.70 old cedis. In 1973 it hit one old cedi. Between 1978 and 1980 it stayed at 4 old cedis. In 1990 it was 460 old cedis; of course, the cedi-dollar rate at the time was 326.28 to the dollar. In the year 2000 it was GHS 4.20, per today's new cedi equivalent. By 2015 it was GHS 7. Now, it stands at GHS 10.65, which translates, if you multiply that figure by 21 working days, into GHS 223.65. That is how far we have come. But is that enough? Does that do justice to the Ghanaian worker and the slaving he has to do every day for Mother Ghana? Yes, we must be patriotic; but beyond patriotism, we must eat and drink and pay bills!

Why am I harping on these matters? Because we can do better - far better! I am not going to compare us to the Asian Tigers; that will only make us exasperated. Let me cast my gaze very close by - to our neighbours in the sub-region. In the Ivory Coast, the monthly minimum wage is 72 dollars (GHS 371.56). In Cameroon, our central and West African neighbour, it is pegged at 75 dollars (GHS 387.04). In Burkina Faso, it is 56 dollars (GHS 288.99). In Ghana, it stands at a paltry 43.34 dollars now, the equivalent of GHS 223.65. This is a clear indication that Ghana is lagging behind in terms of bettering the livelihoods of workers and we desperately need to remedy the situation quickly! From where I sit, I deem that something radical must be done about this now, lest matters get worse. Much more must be done for the ordinary Ghanaian worker who has to think of food, drink, rent, school fees, transport fares, taxes and the like.

On the pensions front, His Excellency the President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, has directed that the Minister for Employment and Labour Relations work with the Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT) and the National Pensions Regulatory Authority (NPRA) in order to resolve all outstanding pensions issues. But haven't we waited too long already? Anyway, better late than never, right?

The problems, though, go beyond just these ones. I interacted with Mr. James Kweku Madakena, Public Relations Officer of the University of Ghana Pensions Association, this morning on the Executive Breakfast Show, and this is what he had to say with regard to our pensions regime:

"SSNIT uses pensioners’ money for their social responsibility by constructing houses for the police. Meanwhile, the police do not contribute to SSNIT; they are on Cap 30. When the military and the police retire, they earn more money than the SSNIT pensioners… Years back, it was SSNIT contributions that were used to start the National Health Insurance Scheme and currently, we do not know whether this gargantuan amount has been paid back. So, I’m pleading with SSNIT and the government to stop dipping their hands into the poor pensioners’ contributions. The Ghanaian SSNIT pensioners all over the country are suffering."

Other stalwarts on the labour front agreed with him. The likes of Mr. Seth Abloso (A Labour Expert and Activist, Acting Executive Director of Labour Policy International and a former Head of the Industrial Relations and Social Department of the Trades Union Congress (TUC); Mr. Stephen Boakye (Deputy Secretary, Pensioners' Association of Ghana) and; Mr. Alex Odartey Lamptey (Chairman of the National Union of Harbour Employees) all agreed that it was high time government got out and stayed out of "bullying" SSNIT into serving as its cash cow, a situation that greatly affected the work of that institution.

The billions we are perpetually borrowing, what are using them for? What are we sinking them into? Are they just getting siphoned into the pockets of greedy politicians and technocrats? Why are we so rich and yet subjected to such grinding poverty? What will it take to turn back the hands of time and reverse this negative trend?

Government of Ghana, do something for the Ghanaian worker. I demand that, as a citizen, for all Ghanaians in this country. I ask for it because I care; because what happens to us matters; because if you do not care for us, we shall not care for you come voting time. This is not a threat, but a firm determination not to tolerate neglect any longer. All Ghanaians matter!

I am a citizen, not a spectator. My name is Benjamin Akakpo and this is a piece of my mind.

By: The writer is the host of the Executive Breakfast Show (EBS) on Class 91.3 FM

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