unions in the country appear divided over government’s decision not to pay public sector workers, particularly those in the essential services category, who embark on prolonged strikes.
In response to the statement by the Minister for Employment and Labour Relations, Haruna Iddrisu, the Ghana Medical Association (GMA), has asked government to rather address all pending labour issues to prevent workers from embarking on strikes.
The Labour Minister on Tuesday announced that government will no longer pay salaries of workers who embark on strikes.
He called on the unions to consider setting up funds to pay its members for the period they choose to strike as is the practice in other countries.
But organized labour is not happy with the announcement.
But the General Secretary of the GMA, Frank Serebour, believes government’s approach is not the best.
“He should critically examine the government machinery and say that as government, our decision is that we are going to put our house together to ensure that labour issues are settled as quickly as possible. And then we will also ensure that we follow due process such that when the National Labour Commission (NLC) rules against us; we will abide by it to also ensure that the labour front does not have reasons to go on strike. But if it’s always about ranting and shouting that they won’t pay us and all that, but they always pay because they know they are wrong. No labour union likes to go on strike; we all want to have a harmonized labour environment so that we can always settle labour issues amicably. So I believe that what he is doing is just jumping the gun and I don’t think that’s the right way to go”.
The General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) Kofi Asamoah also disagreed with government’s position.
“Unions generally have their own measures of ensuring that they can exercise their rights when they are on strike. What is becoming very clear is that, since we have a right to strike, the Minister’s contention is that it doesn’t behoove the employer to pay us when we are on strike; but that’s an issue because we may also have to find out what necessitates the strike. Sometimes the causes have always been policy makers’ or institutions’ failure to be proactive and also to solve labour-related conflicts when they start. Yes; the Minister has made his point and we’ve taken note of it but I think we have a collective responsibility in ensuring that we don’t even wait for conflicts to come”.
However, the General Secretary of the Ghana Federation of Labour, Abraham Koomson, supported government saying the decision was lawful.
“It’s not for him to even tell the unions because the unions should know that the action is unlawful and that they should be able to take care of their members. It’s only in Ghana or Africa that you do these things and expect to be paid. In Europe or America you don’t expect to be paid. And over there the unions make provisions for such industrial actions and so even if you can’t fully pay for their wages there should be an arrangement to let them have something that can sustain them. Strikes normally take more than a day so for as long as you remain on strike indefinitely for your demands to be met, the unions should be in the position to sustain the strike by providing members the needed support”.