Voice from Afar: Strikes and rumours of strike threaten national stability

Voice from Afar: Strikes and rumours of strike threaten national stability

It is natural to appeal to teachers and doctors on strike to go back to work. Such strikes affect us intimately. But commentators should spare some breath to ask how and why the strikes took place. Kwame Nkrumah sought to bring organised labour (including professionals) into the development process and his administration promulgated labour laws which the supporters of “free trade unions” vigorously opposed. We changed his labour regime after his overthrow but guarded against rampant strikes which could impede economic and social development as well as the stability of the nation itself.

The Labour Commission was required to ensure that all avenues for settlement were exhausted before a strike could take place. To the best of my knowledge the system still operates and strikes which disregard the laid-down procedures can be declared illegal. Its leaders can be taken to court, and if found guilty, convicted. A complication has been introduced today by the establishment of the Fair Wages Commission which appears designed to adjudicate between the demands of State employees and the government.

The important question to answer is whether the two bodies which deal with grievances and labour disputes are doing their work well. I can’t make ends meet on my meagre pension and so I do not know what fair gratuities and remunerations are.

But surely the Fair Wages Commission cannot go by academic determination of fairness. It has to plant its feet on the ground. It has to negotiate or discuss wage matters with government employees bearing in mind the ability of the government to pay what is agreed. This it cannot do on its own. It has to go by the mandate of the government financial gurus.

Wages and conditions of service negotiations are conducted regularly between representatives of the employers and unions. Both sides have their briefs or instructions and stick to them while exploring ways for settlement. Compromises are referred to the parent organisation before an agreement is concluded.

The organisation or company concerned should have the money before the agreement is initiated. The union can embark on a legitimate strike if the company refuses to honour the agreement.

The crucial question therefore is whether agreements were reached with the doctors and teachers. If there was an agreement it should be implemented. If it cannot be implemented because of lack of funds by the government then those responsible for instructing the negotiators have a case to answer unless those responsible for government finances were incompetent and therefore made commitments beyond the capacity of government.

Considering the high qualifications of the Ghanaians in the Ministry of Finance as well as those of the negotiators for the teachers and doctors the present situation is difficult to understand.

That was why I raised the question of the capacity and capability of the Ghanaian in my article on April 8. As a matter of fact incidents occur daily to make a nationalist sad about the expressed capacity of the Ghanaian.

One such incident was the story carried by The Ghanaian Times of March 9 about hospital machines being left to rot. The front page carried the headline:

Hospital Abandons Machines

“Sophisticated medical equipment estimated at many thousands of Ghana Cedis have for the past years been lying idle at the Dangme East District Hospital because the instructions to them were in Chinese and staff are unable to decipher and operate them”.

I found the attitude of these well-educated Ghanaians in charge of the hospital strange and unbelievable. Translation is certainly no problem these days. Translation from Chinese to English can be obtained from a reputable company in England within two weeks or less. And there are Ghanaians around who can speak and translate Chinese into English.

The article stated that “The equipment including anaesthetic machines and sterilisers were donated by the Chinese government to the hospital which was built by the Government in partnership with the China National Corporation for Overseas Economic Cooperation”.

I suppose we wanted our Chinese “development partners” to offer us the technical assistance to decipher their ‘hieroglyphics’ and send our doctors to China to learn how to operate Chinese medical machines!

The hospital administration was reported to have been compelled “to PARK the equipment and PURCHASE NEW ONES” to facilitate the effective discharge of its duties. There was financial pressure on the hospital which therefore “called for assistance from public-spirited persons!!”

We read such reports as interesting stories. But piecing many of such incidents together and reflecting on them makes the discerning citizen sad. The country is certainly in a bad way. But we still have the talents and are capable of building a strong viable country as we set out to do at independence.

But to do this we have to change the dependent mentality and think deeply about events. The strikes and rumours of strikes are disturbing. But we should not simply blame those who strike or threaten to strike.

How and why did the confrontation start? Did both parties understand the language of negotiations? Which of the parties wanted the language of negotiations interpreted from Chinese to Twi or Dagbani?

Strikes and rumours of strike are symptoms of a dangerous malaise which threatens economic progress and national stability. We can stop the malaise in its tracks if we use our God-given capacity to think, follow laid-down procedures and obey the established rules.