Government Dares TUC
The ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) government has dared organised labour on its 10-day ultimatum issued government and PURC to slash the hiked utility tariffs or risk a massive nationwide strike.
The government has described the Trades Union Congress’ (TUC) threat as ‘misdirected’, suggesting that the labour union should review its 10-day ultimatum and go back to dialogue with the utility regulator; the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission (PURC).
Information and Media Relations Minister, Mahama Ayariga, told journalists at the daily media briefing at the Presidency on Wednesday that the TUC’s approach to solving the utility tariff impasse was ‘unacceptable’ because their ultimatum suggested that they wanted government to interfere in the work of PURC, which is supposed to be independent.
The Minister statement suggest that despite the massive public condemnation of the ‘draconian’ hikes in water and electricity tariffs believed to have been instigated by the NDC government through the PURC, the government can only sit back and watch the PURC maintain a highly unpopular tariff policy.
‘As a social democratic party, we want to make sure that yes the services are available and then we now move to the next stage of who can afford and who cannot afford. And then you ask yourself how you can help those who cannot afford to access the services,’ Ayariga said.
Last month, the PURC announced tariff increments of 78.9 per cent for electricity and 52 per cent for water.
The price changes took effect this month (October 2013).
Civil society groups have described this hikes as ‘very insensitive’.
‘We have made it clear to the government that the prevailing income levels in the country do not allow us to pay such exorbitant increases; we simply cannot afford to pay,’ the Secretary General of TUC, Kofi Asamoah, charged on Tuesday when he issued the 10-day ultimatum.
The PURC has received massive flak for acting to the detriment of utility consumers. Apparently, the utility regulator had failed to implement an agreement reached by stakeholders three years ago, to increase utility tariffs on a graduated manner in order to minimise the impact on consumers.
‘Obviously the PURC and government have failed to heed our request to stay the implementation of the increases and to open genuine dialogue on the entire energy and water sectors,’ stated the TUC boss.
‘We are therefore left with very little choice to implement our own roadmap for getting the tariffs down to levels that are consistent with the income of Ghanaians.’
The TUC is not the only body seriously opposed to the massive tariff increment: opposition political parties, the Association of Ghana Industries (AGI) and the Ghana Medical Association (GMA), among other civil society organisations, have all strongly condemned the tariff hikes.
Even Pro- NDC group, Young Democrats, has joined the fray of condemnation, describing the tariff hikes as a show of insensitivity by the Mahama-led administration.
According to the group, as a social democratic party, the well-being of the people should be its topmost priority – a situation it says government has failed woefully.
‘We expect government, which has signed a social contract with the people of Ghana, to listen to our cry and call PURC to order. We expect government to be sensitive to the plight of the ordinary Ghanaian,’ it said.
But General Secretary of the Federation of Labour, Abraham Koomson tells Joy News many of the labour unions are unhappy about the position taken by the TUC.
‘TUC doesn’t have that mandate to go and take decisions without informing the other groupings- Civil Servant Association, Nurses, NAGRAT – then you want us to undertake the threat that you have given.’
He said, for instance, the manufacturing sector has ‘serious crisis’ and even want to declare some workers redundant, ‘so if you call workers in this sector to go on strike, what happens, because the employers even want to lay off workers so I don’t think it will be possible for any worker in the industry to go on strike’.
Mr Koomson said even though they all wanted the government to reduce utility tariffs, the approach by TUC was ‘wrong, the approach is populist, the approach is uncalled for, the opportunistic kind of stance will not help anybody in this country’.
By Raphael Ofori-Adeniran
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