All Eyes Red: Demo Hits Mahama!
The ICU demonstrators in Tema
The John Mahama National Democratic Congress (NDC) administration will this week experience an unprecedented number of industrial actions and street protests as various groups roll up their sleeves for showdown with the government.
The last count indicated that over 10 of such actions were being lined up for this week; four of which started yesterday with more in the offing.
All the protests have the poor economic performance of the Mahama government as their root cause. The major one is scheduled for Thursday July 24, 2014, when all workers – under the aegis of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) – are expected to lay down their tools and vent their spleen on the current economic hardship Ghanaians are facing.
There are plenty labour agitations, from the Polytechnic Teachers Association of Ghana (POTAG), the Ghana Medical Association (GMA), the Trades Union Congress (TUC), the Ghana National Association of Teachers on Pensions, Ghana National Association of Graduate Teachers (NAGRAT), nurses, importers and exporters, headmasters of public schools, Teachers and Educational Workers Union (TEWU), Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (ICU), the ‘Occupy Flagstaff House’ Movement to traditional rulers.
The organisers of the demonstrations that have been held as well as those yet to come off cite high cost of living, deteriorating economic prospects, empty promises by the government, the fast falling of the cedi and unreliable utility services and bad roads, among other things, as the causes.
The Executive Director of local think-tank IMANI Ghana, Franklin Cudjoe, described the situation as an ‘alarming sense of chaos.’
‘there is an alarming sense of chaos in the political process. The only way forward is for the whole nation to step back and return to the basics about the national agenda and collective social vision. Our leaders simply haven’t got their act together in that department,’ he wrote on his Facebook page on Monday.
On Monday, approximately four demonstrations were simultaneously staged across the country – Railway workers embarked on a sit-down strike in protest against what they said were poor conditions of service.
The strike grounded train movements, leading to many commuters plying the Accra-Nsawam and Accra-Tema routes getting stranded.
According to the Chairman of the Railway Workers Union, Alex Nana Boateng, they would stay grounded until an agreement was reached between the leaders of the union and government on how their conditions of service would be improved.
As at press time the government was negotiating with him.
Last week, the Railway workers issued an ultimatum to government about their intention to strike if it failed to address concerns on their low incomes and the growing challenges in the Railway sector.
Just about the same time, over 500 workers of the Tema Regional Office of the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (ICU) poured onto the principal streets of Tema protesting the Mahama government’s handling of the economy which they described as ‘Boko Haram Government’ – the terrorist group in the northern parts of Nigeria.
The ICU Demonstrators in Tema
According to the workers, the current economic hardship was unbearable and needed immediate fixing.
Over 20 companies in the Tema Metropolis have threatened to shut down if government fails to reduce excessive corporate taxes and address problems confronting the country’s economy.
According to ICU, BTI Limited, a steel company in Tema, had shut down, rendering over 200 workers jobless.
General Secretary of ICU, Solomon Kotei, disclosed this while presenting a petition to the Tema Metropolitan Chief Executive, Isaac Ashai Odamtten, which is expected to be forwarded to President Mahama.
He claimed the closure of the said companies could affect about 4,000 workers.
In Bolgatanga in the Upper East Region of Ghana, NAGRAT asked their members to abandon classes from Monday July 21, 2014 and converge on the Bolgatanga Municipal Assembly in what they described as ‘Occupy the Assembly’.
In a NAGRAT press statement dated July 18, 2014, it directed its members not to supervise any activity concerning examinations in their schools, and should not go to school till further notice.
Part of the road being blocked
Meanwhile, by Monday morning, about four different communities in Ga West and Ga Central had staged a massive demonstration over what they termed the ‘poor and deplorable nature’ of their respective roads.
Placard-wielding residents of Oduman, Afoaman, Manhean, and Borkorborkor – all close to Ablekuman and Amasaman in the north-eastern part of Accra – hit the streets, blocking main roads and burning tyres while chanting war songs.
The rapid response of police personnel from the Accra Regional Police Command, Tesano, Odorkor District and Amasaman District, prevented the demonstrators from destroying properties and the beating up of the Municipal Chief Executive of the area, Sam Atukwei Quaye, who escaped lynching.
The TUC has planned a ‘Black Thursday’ and has instructed all its members to down their tools for the whole day.
The implication for this industrial action is bound to critically upset the economy because, according to labour consultant Austin Gamey, ‘If the almost one million TUC members down their tools on Thursday, the country will be brought to its knees.’ He therefore pleaded with the TUC to rethink its decision.
Speaking to Citi News , Mr. Gamey disagreed to the institution’s decision and advised it to rather consider the repercussions of its intended action.
But the TUC Secretary-General, Kofi Asamoah, has vowed not to back down.
Doctors And Nurses
President of the Ghana Medical Association, Dr. Kwabena Opoku-Adusei, has said the association was actively involved in the planning of the nationwide industrial action of the TUC and might devise its own dimension to the industrial action.
Executives of the association would hold discussions on how their members could participate in the industrial action, describing the government as being ‘insensitive’ to the plight of Ghanaians, even though workers have made several appeals to government to come to their aid.
‘We met with higher authority; we were instructed to meet the then Minister for Employment and Labour Relations, Nii Armah Ashitey; a common MoU [Memorandum of Understanding] he refused to sign. I don’t know whether this new Labour Minister [Haruna Iddrisu] will be different.
‘We are talking about continuous increase in utility tariffswe are talking about this automated tariff adjustment system when our salaries are not automatedgenerally about the high cost of living where people’s salaries and incomes are static and dwindling against the dollar,’ he stated.
Ghanaian nurses are also lacing their boots to demonstrate against government for their unpaid salaries and allowances.
UTAG And POTAG
Meanwhile, UTAG has also hinted at embarking on industrial action over non-payment of their Book and Research Allowance.
‘We will soon be reopening for the next academic year [but] the issue has not been resolved, and as we are going into the next academic year we are not sure where we are going to get our tools to work with,’ Dr. Ofori Bekoe, UTAG President lamented.
‘We can’t work with our bare handsif our tools are given us then we will work. If not, we cannot continue to go to work,’ Dr. Ofori Bekoe affirmed.
The threat by UTAG comes on the heels of a similar action taken by members of the Polytechnic Teachers Association of Ghana (POTAG), who have since May 2014 vacated the lecture halls in protest over government’s delay in the release of their Book and Research Allowance.
Importers and Exporters have also threatened to demonstrate against new charges slapped on their merchandise by the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority.
According to them, the additional charges are draconian, given the fact that their trade margins are already being eroded by the rapidly depreciating Ghanaian Cedi.
Earlier last month, members of the Ghana Union of Traders (GUTA) embarked on a four-day protest where shops were closed over the rapid depreciation of the Cedi.
Chiefs In The Fray
Even chiefs are not left out of the agitations for the Mahama-led administration to be more sensitive to the deterioration of the Ghanaian economy.
The Okyenhene, Osagyefuo Amoatia Ofori Panin, Monday embarked on what was described as an ‘inspection’ of the bad road network in the Eastern Region.
After the inspection, the Okyenhene petitioned President Mahama about the total neglect of the region in terms of development.
Recently, chiefs and traditional leaders in Ho in the Volta Region threatened to hit the streets if their road network was not fixed; additionally, they demanded more development in the region.
They generally felt the government had paid lip-service to the development of the area for too long.
By: Raphael Ofori-Adeniran; Linda Tenyah, Ablekuma; Vincent Kubi, Tema & Ebo Bruce-Quansah, Bolgatanga
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