THE IMPACT OF INDUSTRIAL ACTIONS ON NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
Industrial actions continue to be a challenge to the nation. One labour union after the other embarks on this destructive journey to demand one thing or the other. Though strikes date back to centuries across the globe, strikes today, defy common logic especially in our part of the world. Strikes are embarked upon by employees who feel dissatisfied with one thing or the other. It may be poor condition of service or dissatisfaction about pay. In the developed world, strikes are the last resort after all other options have been exhausted. In Ghana, strikes have become the first rather than the last resort for employees especially those in the public sector. The use of the English word "strike" first appeared in 1768, when sailors, in support of demonstrations in London "struck" or removed the topgallant sails of merchant ships at port, thus crippling the ships. In 1917, Mexico according to Wikipedia was the first nation that constitutionally guaranteed the right to strike. In 1937, there were 4,740 strikes in the United States. This was the greatest strike wave in US labour history. These strikes occurred during a period of great depression and massive unemployment. In 1967, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted and ensure the right to strike. Since then, there have been numerous labour agitations all over the world. There is no doubt that in advanced democracies, strike is a legitimate means of registering protest against one thing or the other especially on the labour front. The situation is not different in Ghana. Like Oliver Twist, workers would always want more, simply because human needs are insatiable.
However, the current situation in Ghana is worrisome. The rampant nature of strikes and threats of strikes beat imagination. Hardly a week ends without one labour union threatening to go on strike. Ghana Medical Association, University Teachers Association of Ghana, National Association of Graduate Teachers, Ghana National Association of Teachers, Teachers and Educational Workers Union, Polytechnic Teachers Association of Ghana, Civil and Local Government Service Staff Association of Ghana, Government and Hospital Pharmacists Association and Colleges of Education Teachers Association of Ghana have become household names in Ghana because of strikes.
The introduction of the Single Spine Salary Scheme has not helped matters. It has arguably worsened the case. The number of unions which have gone on strike over issues relating to their migration onto the new pay policy cannot be counted, neither can their impact on productivity be quantified. What is more worrying is the fact that in most instances, the unions flout the labour laws with impunity. It is equally troubling that state institutions and for that matter government appears to be condoning such illegal strikes. The fact is, workers who go on illegal strikes are not supposed to be paid but how many workers have been denied their salaries for embarking on an illegal strike? It is true that strikes become rampant in election years and governments fear losing some votes if they strictly apply the law. For how long should we allow these illegalities to go on? Strikes are necessary but not when they become persistent and hinder national development.
It is about time government took the bull by the horn and dealt decisively with this situation. Strikes, in some instances have irreversible consequences on people. For instance, a life lost during a strike by health workers cannot be brought back. Productive hours lost during industrial actions are lost forever. That is why workers have to first of all, consider the full implications of their actions before embarking on strike. Of course, workers deserve a good condition of service and it is their right to demand same. That is why institutions like the National Labour Commission has been set up. Ghana also has a good Labour Act, which clearly spells out the procedure for going on a legal strike. Let us follow the laid down procedures so that there will be industrial harmony. Every issue can be resolved at the negotiation table and as the saying goes, jaw jaw is always better than war war.
Government needs to be proactive. This firefighting approach to dealing with labour issues is not helping. Employers especially government, should not wait until workers go on strike before it strives to solve their concerns. It is time to say ‘No’ to strikes.
BY ELORM KPEDATOR, A NATIVE OF WOE IN THE KETA MUNICIPALITY AND FORMERLY OF THE AKATSI COLLEGE OF EDUCATION