There are many things we take for granted, but when we recall the Haymarket Affair that gave the name May Day, we must pay homage to those who fought the heroic battles that made today’s ordinary things possible.
Some people lost their lives so we could have the 8-hour working day and it took years of struggle before we could have Saturday as part of the weekend. The role of organised labour in our nation’s struggle for freedom is written in letters of gold. Indeed, Kwame Nkrumah’s historic call for Positive Action in 1950 would not have succeeded without the active support of the trades’ union movement. Pobee Biney, Vidal Quist, Anthony Woode and the other workers’ leaders have secure places in the pantheon of great nationalists through whose work and sacrifice we have inherited the free, independent Ghana of today.
On this day, May Day, in the period when we are commemorating the 60th year of our independence, it is fitting and proper that we pay tribute to their memory and the memory and work of their successors such as Joe-Fio Meyer, John Tettegah, B.A Bentum, A.M Issifu, A.K. Yankey, Christian Appiah Agyei, Kwasi Adu Amankwah and Kofi Asamoah.
Mr Secretary General, it is always uppermost in my mind that the overwhelming vote of confidence, given to me and my party by the Ghanaian people on December 7 last year, had everything to do with the belief that we would revive and grow the economy and generate jobs in our country.
We have a huge workforce, but the majority of people are underemployed, inappropriately employed or unemployed. We all know that the number of people in what can be described as formal work is a minuscule part of the workforce of our country. The figures I have seen suggest that the size of the workforce in our country is about 13 million people and there are less than 2 million people in formal work. Unfortunately, much of our preoccupation seems to be with this small group in the formal sector. It is time for us all to work to bring more of our people into the formal sector. It would, indeed, be in everybody’s interest to do so.
The first order of business, therefore, must be to get our economy out of the doldrums and create the atmosphere for our entrepreneurs to bring on the jobs. There are things the government must do, and there are things the citizens as a whole and organized labour, in particular, must do.
We, in government, have set about our part of the task with zeal. Our first budget, the Asempa Budget, has set out clearly the roadmap to bringing prosperity to Ghana. We have taken important steps to create an enabling environment for the private sector to flourish and create jobs. We have reduced taxes, including taxes on kayayei; inflation is on the decline; interest rates are on the decline; and relative stability of the exchange rate has been restored.
The budget also reduced the fiscal deficit from some 9% in 2016 to a projected 6.5% in 2017, bringing Ghana back to the path of fiscal discipline. Macroeconomic stability, which is key to economic growth and job creation, is, therefore, being restored. We must make it easier for people who want to set up businesses to do so and remove the impediments in the way of entrepreneurs. We must get more people in jobs and expand the formal sector of the economy. We are also upholding our social commitments.
As from the next academic year, beginning in September, our Free SHS policy will kick into action. We are also making a determined effort to ensure the financial sustainability of the National Health Insurance Scheme.
Mr Secretary General, whilst the government has work to do, we have to accept that the workforce must accept its responsibility and contribute its part.
I hope I am speaking among friends and will, thus, be allowed to do some plain talking. When efforts are made to improve pay levels without commensurate improvement in productivity, the results, inevitably, point to macroeconomic instability for our country. It means the size of the formal sector shrinks even further. I do not suggest that current pay levels are satisfactory in all sectors of our economy, but I am saying that productivity levels and work attitudes are unsatisfactory in all levels of the economy.
I note the carefully chosen theme for the 2017 May Day celebration: “Ghana 60 Years On: Mobilizing for Future Through the Creation of Decent Jobs”. I am happy to receive the assurance of the Secretary General that the theme signals the intention of workers to rally behind government for faster economic growth, driven by decent jobs. I welcome very warmly this expression of support, for it encourages me to continue even more firmly on the path on which we have embarked.
Fellow Ghanaians, it is no secret that of all government’s objectives, job creation ranks at the top of our priorities as reflected by the title of the NPP’s manifesto: “Change: An Agenda for Jobs”. This, undoubtedly, is the thrust of the social contract. The NPP has long recognised that the severity of joblessness in Ghana demands bold, innovative and urgent steps to ameliorate the situation. That is why, in government, we have taken the step of rolling-out promptly the programme for Planting for Food and Jobs, which I recently launched in Goaso, in the Brong Ahafo region. We are committed to ensuring that the target of 750,000 direct and indirect jobs earmarked under this intervention will come to fruition.
Additionally, the one-district-one-factory, one-village-one-dam, the Zongo Development Fund, and the equivalent of one million dollars per year per constituency policies are all being pursued to stimulate job creation opportunities across the country. I am happy to learn that the TUC and organized labour have fully endorsed the policies and have pledged support to ensure the attainment of the goal for the creation of decent jobs for all Ghanaians. The pledge of support is sweet music to my ears.
Government, through the Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations, is also in the process of reviewing existing YEA modules with the view to introducing new employment modules, and expanding existing ones to create over 200,000 jobs for the youth.
We have to rectify the serious neglect of skills training by modernizing and strengthening Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) institutions. We have to formalize all forms of apprenticeships and master craftsmanship and promote entrepreneurship. Through these new areas of commitment, government intends to address the long prevailing skills mismatch between majority of school leavers and industry requirements. We have to tailor the curriculum of skills development and job learning based institutions to current industrial needs, both at the enterprise level and the job market.
As a signatory to the ILO convention on the Fundamental Principle of Rights at Work, we shall ensure the strict enforcement of Occupational Health and Safety Standards and extend Social Protection laws in the protection of workers’ rights at the workplace. In this regard, I am charging the Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations to work through its Tripartite constituents, namely Organised Labour and Employers’ Associations, to give priority to these very important issues in order to create an enabling environment for sustainable growth, high productivity and to attract investment opportunities for job creation and economic development. I have heard you, Mr Secretary General, and your lamentations about how badly off present day workers are in comparison with Ghanaian workers in the past.
We do have lots of problems, bad roads, traffic jams, high electricity tariffs, inadequate housing and of course, low wages. But that is only half the story. There is another side to our story that we have to face up to as well.
Some of those workers of old would not recognise the present day practices at our workplaces. Ghanaian artisans, for example, used to have an enviable reputation around the region. Our carpenters, masons, mechanics, plumbers, tailors were much sought after. They took pride in their work and improved upon their own set standards every time they took on a new job.
How come that old, very old classroom blocks withstand storms and heavy rainfall, whilst the roofs of nearby, newly built ones are ripped off regularly? How come that we build roads that are expected to last for at least five years and they do not make it through one rainy season before they fail and pot holes appear? The workers on the roads, the contractors and the consultants all conspire to deliver the shoddy work that prevents us from getting to where we ought to be.
We all avoid very carefully any mention of the workplace attitudes that retard our progress. I have said it at another forum, but I think it bears repeating: we arrive at work late and then spend the first hour in prayer; we are clock watchers and leave in the middle of critical work, because it is the official closing time. Everything comes to a stop when it rains and we seem to expect the rest of the world also to stop.
We have no respect for the hours set aside for work… we pray, we eat, we visit during working hours. We spend hours chatting on the telephone when customers are waiting to be served, thereby increasing our labour costs. We take a week off for every funeral. And then we wonder why we are not competitive.
The service that we provide in our hospitality industry does not match that of our competitors and many of us have sadly come around to accept poor service as the norm. There is a particularly pernicious attitude to property that we find at work. There is the petty stealing of paper, envelopes, tea, milk and other equipment. There is the reckless use of office vehicles. Employees show no inclination to protecting the things that are in the offices and factories, and extreme reluctance to stand up for what we know to be right in our workplaces in general.
If we are going to make the changes we all want, then we have to start with a change in attitude to work. Government is ready to do its part, and I am counting on you, Secretary General, to lead the campaign for a change in attitude to work and increase in productivity.
I have taken note of organised labour’s request to discuss a number of issues with government in the interest of industrial peace and harmony. Key among them is the issue of the sale or privatisation of ECG and the fight against illegal mining activities, popularly called “galamsey”.
We have stated that we are taking a second look at the ECG compact. We are driven by two considerations: we are as concerned, as the workers, that the reforms should not lead to involuntary job losses and we should find a long term resolution to the nation’s electricity problems. In this regard, government has amended the terms of the concession agreement to require that: (1) Ghanaians own at least 51% of the concession; (2) there should be no involuntary lay-offs as a result of the concession; (3) the term of the concession would be reduced from 25 to 20 years. We believe that these amendments meet the aspirations of Ghanaians in protecting the jobs of workers and in assuring the control and viability of ECG.
And then there is galamsey, the word, the subject of the moment. I have not yet met anyone who is engaged in galamsey, who is satisfied with the degradation of our lands and our environment that currently comes with galamsey. We are not fighting to put people out of work by seeking to end galamsey.
Since the Almighty blessed us with precious minerals, there will be mining in our country. But this present generation does not own the earth, we hold the lands in trust for generations yet unborn and we cannot destroy it. We are arranging for small-scale mining to be conducted in a sustainable manner. All the indications are that the galamseyers, those who undertake the hazardous and tedious work, do not in fact make much money, as they are routinely cheated from getting a fair price for the gold they find. We are, therefore, encouraging the establishment of gold refineries, which will pay fair prices to the miners.
The sustainable small-scale mining regime we envisage will protect our environment and protect the workers as well. I want to acknowledge, with special thanks, the support and role being played by the media in this fight against “galamsey”. The media, with the overwhelming support of all well-meaning citizens, have given true meaning to the call for all “to be citizens and not spectators”.
The TUC Secretary General in his speech alluded to the sad issue of child labour, and especially its manifestation in some key sectors of our economy. It is a shameful phenomenon and an indictment on all of us, and it is time to stop hiding under a so-called cultural practice to find excuses. Children are children; they are our most important asset and deserve to be protected from being exploited in the labour field.
It is worth pointing out that, if we do not stop these shameful practices, there are global agencies that have determined to institute punitive measures against us in some critical industries, which would lead to the loss of markets for our goods and the loss of jobs. Under my watch, government will work with all partners towards the goal of eliminating child labour. We will work to ensure that our children do not work under hazardous conditions to support themselves and their families. We will work to eliminate, in particular, the disgraceful practice of forcing children into fishing and illegal mining activities.
It is important to keep reminding ourselves that child labour and child trafficking are not only crimes, but also now pose veritable threats to our national security. We all have a responsibility to protect our children from the criminality of child labour. Let me at this stage acknowledge the efforts of my wife, Rebecca, for the determined manner in which she is speaking out against the evil of child labour and child trafficking, and for the memorandum she has signed with her counterpart in Cote d’Ivoire to this effect.
I also share the concerns of organised labour on the deplorable state of our prisons. I dare say the state of our prisons is simply a reflection of the general state of affairs in our country. Accommodation is inadequate and mostly unsuitable, in and out of prison. We could say the same for many other sectors. But we need not accept such a state of affairs as our lot in life. I ask for your support to work to grow our economy and change these things.
Mr Secretary General, the subject of nurses and teachers featured a lot in the recent elections. There was the vexed question of their allowances. We promised to restore them and we have. Then there was the equally vexed question of a good number of them remaining unemployed after completing their training. We have started work on this as well. I am aware of the recent sit-ins at the Ministry of Health by a group of nurses and midwives who are yet to be placed.
I am also aware there is uneasy calm within some occupational and professional groups among public sector workers. Let me use this platform to assure you that my government is your government and we are listening to your concerns. We are determined that, together, we will find sustainable solutions. Ghana needs all its trained manpower to be at work.
We are determined to use all available tools to fight the canker of corruption, for we know how much it destroys our chances at progress and prosperity. The Office of Special Prosecutor is going to be established so that the prosecution of corruption is taken out of political controversy, and thereby enhance the integrity of the rule of lawy.
I want to bring another important reform to your notice. Through a payroll audit conducted by the Ministry of Finance, under the impressive leadership of Ken ofori-Atta, in the last two months, some twenty-six thousand five hundred and eighty-nine workers’ salaries have been suspended from the April 2017 payroll. These “workers” have not come forward to be biometrically verified by SSNIT, despite numerous calls by the Controller and Accountant General to do so.
The idea of biometric verification is essentially to isolate ghost names from the payroll. The cost of maintaining these twenty-six thousand five hundred and eighty-nine names on government payroll is thirty-six million, one hundred and sixty-six thousand, two hundred and three Ghana cedis per month. This means that Government stands to save the country over four hundred and thirty-three million Ghana cedis on this year’s budget alone by this exercise.
Other efforts aimed at cleaning the payroll being undertaken by government include:
1. a new payment system that will integrate the GHIPSS payment platform for salaries to be paid directly to workers without any manual intervention, as has always been the case. This will be implemented on a test basis this month and envisaged to cover finally all workers in June 2017.
2. SSNIT has also been asked to create a separate database for the Controller, by biometrically registering close to two hundred thousand CAP30 workers. Government payroll will now have a direct interface with this and the existing database, thus reducing payroll fraud to the barest minimum. This will provide a complete end-to-end visibility of the entire payroll system, while having a seamless integration between payroll cost and the government’s general ledger.
If we are to pay workers well, we must do at least two things: get rid of ghost ones and enhance the efficiency of genuine ones.
Fellow Ghanaians, I want all of us in Ghana to turn over a new leaf, to turn a new page in the history of our nation. I want us to believe in our capacity to build a modern, developed, progressive nation, and free ourselves from the mindset of dependence, aid, charity and handouts. We can, together, build a new Ghanaian civilization, where there is fair opportunity for all in education and health, where hard work, enterprise and creativity are rewarded, where there is an abundance of decent jobs with good pay, where there is a dignified retirement for the elderly, and where there is a social safety net for the vulnerable and disadvantaged.
The founders of our nation chose the Black Star as part of our national colours for a purpose. They envisaged us as a shining example to the black peoples of the world of what a free, dedicated, enterprising, Ghanaian people can do to build a society the equal of any, anywhere on the face of the planet. Let us be up and doing. Our destiny beckons.
I salute and pay tribute to all workers and wish you all a happy May Day.
Thank you all for your attention and the may the good Lord bless us all and our homeland Ghana, and make us great and strong.