Friday, 1 November 2013

Strike Declared By Organised Labour

Developments on the labour front is not one any Ghanaian will be enthused about. It is unfortunate the friction between organised labour and the PURC and by extension government over the hikes in utility tariffs has been allowed to deteriorate to the extent that organised labour has declared a nation-wide strike effective the 18th of next month. Before the strike workers will embark on nationwide demonstrations in protests over the increases. At a meeting early this month, organised labour issued a ten day ultimatum to the PURC and government to reduce the tariffs or face the wrath of workers. Following the ultimatum, government constituted a technical working group to among other terms of reference examine mitigating measures that would allow industry and consumers to adjust to any new level of tariff increase The Technical Committee warned that anything below 60 per cent will be dangerous for operators of the utilities but labour is unimpressed. According to the Secretary General of the TUC, Kofi Asamoah, the Committee's job in no way addresses the concerns of workers. In the view of organised labour, government cannot increase salaries of workers by ten percent and turn round to slap such astronomical increases on them. At a forum in Tamale, President Mahama urged Ghanaians to bear with government and pay a little more for electricity until March next year when the gas project comes on stream. It is true the tariff increases have been quite strangulating. According to users of pre-paid electricity meters, a 50 Ghana cedi purchase of power which formerly took them more than a month can now take the average consumer barely three days. What is most annoying is that some of the new meters introduced by ECG in recent times are said to run fast. It is possible the utilities are making matters worse. Some people believe they are manipulating the system to maximize profits. Just recently, a private newspaper published huge salaries and allowances ECG workers were paying themselves. Board Members are also alleged to be taking fat sitting allowances to the detriment of the Company.

Whatever it is, it behove government to do well to settle amicably the impasse between organised labour and the PURC once and for all. We cannot afford to see any state machinery ground to a halt, neither are we prepared to see workers’ pay tariffs beyond their pockets. If two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. Any strike by organised labour is likely to affect the national economy. Investors will look at the country with another eye. Huge wage bills are tearing the Ghanaian economy apart and it will amount to adding salt to injury if organised labour goes ahead with its threat. Absolute peace on the labour front is what the economy needs to grow. It will be prudent to call a truce and write the two combatants to the table for a dialogue. We need to find a middle road to the dispute and not for any party to take an intransigent position. This is the first time in more than a decade that organised labour has called a strike of such magnitude and it should not be said to have happened in President Mahama's era.

To jaw-jaw is better than to war-war. Organised Labour has said it is not organize for the tariff hike but the levels are unacceptable. It has suggested that hikes must be staggered to make them affordable. The idea that government cannot interfere in the affairs of PURC is real but the option is for government to either subsidise or cushion workers against the tariffs hikes. Again the utilities must be made to publish their annual statement of accounts to determine their level of losses against their expenditure. They must be made to close all leakages that make their expenditure go high. A lot of people have connected electricity or water without payment and it is about time the utilities brought them under their net. The Electricity Company must introduce many more of its new meters that make illegal connection impossible. It is good residence of Ministers and other government appointees are being connected to meters. At the end of the day government must generate some revenue from these Article 71 office holders who hitherto were enjoying the utilities at the expense of government. We need solutions to the utility tariff impasse and it must be outright.


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