Thousands of public sector workers, with support from the informal sector, yesterday took to the streets across the country in protest against poor management of the Ghanaian economy leading to the imposition of killer taxes.
The angry workers, under the umbrella of organised labour, were particularly incensed by the hefty taxes and levies imposed on petroleum products as well as electricity tariffs, pushing the cost of living beyond the means of the average Ghanaian.
The demonstrating workers did not understand why they should pay more for petroleum products especially at a time crude oil was currently trading on the world market at below $28 per barrel, describing the Mahama Administration as insensitive.
DAILY GUIDE gathered that at the time of the demonstration, President John Mahama was out of the country, cooling off in Switzerland for the Wold Economic Forum.
The NDC government recently slapped utility consumers and fuel users with heavy taxes and levies, earning the name ‘killer taxes’.
The workers believed that the manner in which the government was imposing taxes was unacceptable, warning that nothing would change their minds until they see the scrapping of the killer taxes.
In Accra, the workers protested against economic hardship and the government’s policies that had continually made them poorer.
The peaceful and incident-free demonstration led by the Ghana Trades Union Congress (TUC) started from the Kwame Nkrumah Circle and ended at the Independence Square where TUC General Secretary Kofi Asamoah, on behalf of organised labour, and later Haruna Iddrisu, Minister of Employment and Labour Relations, took turns to address the agitated workers.
The demonstrators hooted at the minister, asking him to go away.
Most demonstrators looked pained while they held placards with inscriptions such as: “We need critical thinkers”, “Lazy, sleepy Parliament + inefficient executive = killer taxes”, “We don’t need killer taxes”, “Oh! John Mahama, why?” and “Mr President, your policies are terrorising workers” among others.
The Industrial Commercial Workers Union (ICU), Ghana Federation of Labour (GFL), Ghana Medical Association (GMA), Judicial Service Staff Association of Ghana (JUSAG), Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT), Ghana Registered Nurses Association (GNRNA), Ghana National Graduate Teachers Association (NAGRAT), Concerned Teachers Coalition, Civil and Local Government Staff Association of Ghana (CLOGSAG) and all TUC affiliate unions had members at the demonstration.
The demonstration stalled the work of the courts and many Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).
Starting from the Obra Spot at Circle at about 8:45am, the workers moved towards Kingsway and took a turn at Farisco, Adabraka and headed eastwards to the TUC traffic intersection.
They then descended towards the National Theatre intersection on the Liberia Avenue road, then to the Ministries traffic light intersection before hitting the 28th February Road which leads to the Independence Square where they converged at about 10:55am.
There was an overwhelming police presence during the demonstration and they could be seen at every traffic intersection even though most of them were not armed except with basic riot control gears.
Later, Commissioner of Police Dr George Akuffo Dampare, the Greater Accra Regional Commander, commended the demonstrators for the peaceful manner in which they conducted themselves.
“All things were in position. The leadership of organised labour followed the instructions we gave them and our men and women have also acted professionally,” he said, adding, “Let me take this opportunity to commend everyone here for what has happened.”
At the Independence Square when an announcement was made that they were waiting for the Minister of Employment to address the demonstrators, there were jeers and when he arrived a few minutes later, it even grew louder.
Organised Labour Stance
The TUC Secretary-General, Kofi Asamoah, said the 59.2% increase in electricity and 67.2% for water, authorised by the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission (PURC), was unacceptable and asked the government to order a reduction without any delay.
He said the introduction of the Energy Sector Levy under Act 899 which had resulted in an ‘astronomical’ and ‘unjustified’ increase in prices of petroleum products at a time the world market price for crude was at an all-time low could not be justified.
“The message we are getting is that the government has remained adamant but we will continue to press on to get the reductions.”
He also complained bitterly about how the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is allegedly dictating to the government on the management of the economy and said the Breton Wood institution has never been able to deliver prosperity to any country.
He said organised labour wanted the government to know that its policies were bringing hardship to ordinary workers, stressing that “we want the demonstration to touch your heart.”
“We are not against tariff increment but at the moment the workers cannot bear them. If these things continue, it could cause social instability.”
He later said sarcastically that “we know the President is a compassionate President and can have compassion on us.”
The Minister of Employment said even though the concerns of the workers are legitimate, “you could have chosen another path” to vent their spleen since the action was not “politically expedient” in an election year.
He said some of the policies of the government had been designed to “protect your jobs in the foreseeable future,” and called for continuous negotiations between the government and the labour front.
He said the government was committed to making ‘overtures’ to the workers, adding that “we don’t take interest in inflicting pain on workers.”
By William Yaw Owusu