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03.04.2004 Feature Article

Wanted: A More Productive, Less Agitation Organised Labour

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Quietly and like a slow poison that takes a while before it kills its victim, the power of workers agitation is slowly and inexorably taking a stranglehold on organized labour in this country effectively sending signals of a country under duress.

That it has the manifest ability to decimate the socio-economic gains this country has notched up in recent years and possibly affect the goodwill we enjoy in the international business community should be a matter of great concern to every Ghanaian.

The conundrum that have played out in the boardrooms of Ghana Airways, Volta River Authority (VRA) and most recently in the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) shows the power inherent in the agitation of workers and the extent to which the labour community in this country should be taken seriously.

Nothing happens by chance and if this saying is anything to go by we can fairly deduce that when workers decide to lay down their tools in the form of a strike, demonstration, picketing etc they do so for specific reasons and in the pursuit of justice and equity.

Labour plays a very important role in the economic life of any country. The economy of every country including the legendary El Dorado cannot function without the contribution of organized labour that is why labour is reckoned to be one of the major pillars of every economic theory ever propounded. A country's economic prospects would be under serious threat if organized labour is not given the right environment to thrive and that includes matching skill with good wages and providing other incentives among others.

It is well understood that the following guidelines and others would not insure against labour disturbances per se but all things being equal (ceteris paribus) there is the shared belief that it could address almost 85 per cent of the concerns that lead to such disturbances.

However what worries me in particular is the recent trend in Ghana where top Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) have lost their jobs as a result of agitation by their workers.

What is even disturbing in this scenario is the ultimatum the workers issue to government in the event their calls for the removal of their bosses are not heeded. In the case of the VRA we read reports in which some threatened to black out the whole country and sabotage the economic interests of Ghana. Perhaps I would take this statement lightly because it was issued in the heat of the moment and did not reflect any analytical and deductive reasoning but what is more worrying is that in almost all of these cases the reaction of the political leadership has been disappointing to say the least.

Here is a sampling.

In both the Ghana Airways and the VRA scenario it is widely believed that workers agitation may have influenced President John Agyekum Kufuor to read the riots act to the Ghanaian CEO's at the helm of affairs. Now could we blame the recent spike in labour disturbances in our country on the reactive and politically correct actions of this administration noting the possible political windfall and fallout that could arise as a result?

Perhaps workers are upping the ante because they have found this as the President's soft underbelly and are exploiting it for their gain.

The case of the embattled Ghana Broadcasting Corporation helmswoman which has generated a lot of buzz is likely to follow a similar pattern too that is if this administration would allow it.

I am not a clairvoyant but I can see the pattern and if what happened in the case of the other gentlemen is anything to go by, knock on wood, Ms. Eva Lokko would become another statistic in the history of Director-Generals of the state-owned broadcasting organization.

The trend where confidential memo's or reports (which are circulated as such) find themselves either in the pages of a newspaper report or on the airwaves is disturbing to say the least. That is where it all begins.

The feeding frenzy nature of the media would ensure that the information generates a lot of buzz and once the workers are presented as the victims in the case and the helmsman the villain, the political establishment takes a lot of heat and naturally responds the way it does.

But that is where I disagree.

I honestly think that the Kufuor administration while showing empathy and commitment to the labour community being one of its constituencies in light of recent decisions which have favoured their cause, it behooves this administration to send s strong message to organized labour that it wouldn't countenance boardroom blackmail and subterfuge.

Laws are promulgated for a reason and we shouldn't only respect them but we should also be seen to be respecting and applying them across board. If workers lay down their tools and refuse to accept mediation from all quarters, fire them or suspend them without pay or something. Employers need to send a message that they are serious about staying productive and not only good at kowtowing to workers demands which at times are so unreasonable.

But that is the simplistic way out. The reality is that most of the dust ups that play out in the work place only surface after all efforts at resolving them on the quiet have failed.

Another reality is that you cannot fire every body at GBC, VRA and Ghana Airways because these organizations are strategic national assets. That is why I don't envy President Kufuor and for that matter any succeeding President. Like a poisoned, chalice the President of Ghana has to work in the confines of the 1992 Constitution which places all appointive power to any public office in the hands of the President.

What this means is that all these appointees serve at the pleasure of the President and so the case could be made that the President could use his powers in a discretionary way to remove any of his appointees should the need arise and that could be as a result of workers agitation. But this does not justify the actions of the workers neither does my objections absolve the CEO's of blame.

Both need to share most of the blame but as the constitution of the land makes clear the buck stops with the President. It is he who has to choose between sticking up for his appointee and losing a fast receding political base as a result or upholding the demands of workers and sending the message to the international business community that due process does not work in the country he has traveled the length and breadth of the globe to advertise as a haven of law and order.

No where in the developed world is the head of a company dismissed on the basis of workers agitation? At the most the company board would convene a meeting and remedy the situation. It is only in the worst case scenario where the CEO is dismissed but in most cases the board would fire the workers instead. Any labour driven economy which most economies are apply the carrot and stick approach so well and we can take a cue from that.

If this country is to make progress and strides in the future we have to discourage the subversion of laid down procedure and due process and that includes playing the delicate balancing act and not the populist card when addressing such high-octane labour issues.

There is a new way of doing business in the world and countries which are enjoying high levels of economic growth and prosperity today abandoned their backward and moribund ways a long time ago to embrace this new paradigm and thinking.

Economic prosperity for Ghanaians can become a reality and not an illusion if we harness the potential of organized labour and channel it towards more productive ventures. It is a responsibility the political leadership must not shirk.

We have what it takes to make it all the way to the top but to paraphrase Professor Kofi Kumado of the Law Faculty of the University of Ghana, “we first have to deal with the little pimples or rashes before they become festering sores.”

Dismissing Ms. Eva Lokko is not the way out of the travails of GBC. She has the intellectual abilities to turn this distressed organization around what she needs is a wake up call and I guess by now she has received one that would alert her not only to her responsibilities to her outside audience which is us the viewers but also to her commitment to her internal audience-the hardworking workers of GBC. By Paa Kwesi Plange For Gye Nyame Concord Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Paa Kwesi Plange
Paa Kwesi Plange, © 2004

The author has 52 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: PaaKwesiPlange

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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