Monday, October 21, 2013

Brigadier-General Nunoo-Mensah and the “hot kitchen” (Part II)

Monday, October 21, 2013
Being a pillar of the government, the figure cut by Nunoo-Mensah has created misleading impressions and provoked public anger against him for nothing. After all, he has no more power to change anything in the country than I have. Being the National Security Advisor doesn’t empower him to do what the President or his Vice or even (Regional) Ministers or CEOs of the Metropolitan/Municipal/District Assemblies can do. He is at the beck and call of the appointing authority and doesn’t wield the power that he can use to effect any change.
That is why his utterances need not be over-extended to cover the government or to suggest that his viewpoints on this score reflect the thinking of President Mahama. He spoke as an individual and is prepared for the consequences as such.
As he has already indicated in his interview with the BBC, he “owes nobody any apology for comments that have angered Ghanaian workers and some political groupings.” He is adamant, explaining, however that he is not against workers’ going on strike but that they shouldn’t expect to be paid for the period that their strike action covers. This is another important issue to be addressed, not dismissed.

This call for the suspension of salaries of such striking employees is nothing new or wayward. Our Civil Service Code stipulates that if workers absent themselves from work for 15 consecutive days, they are automatically disengaged/dismissed from work. Has any government been bold enough to implement this stipulation? No!! Lack of political will and moral strength to enforce this provision encourages this indiscipline that irks Nunoo-Mensah.
In other countries, the situation is different. Workers don’t get paid for the period that they withdraw their services. In other cases, they are even made to pay for the period. Just one personal example. Some three years ago when faculty at my university withdrew services for three days in protest against a bad management decision, they were “docked”, meaning that a percentage of their salaries was withheld to compensate for the total number of days on which they were on strike.
No one dared protest at this deduction. The matter was not raised anywhere again and the aspects of the collective bargaining against which the strike action was taken took effect. In the end, then, faculty paid for their genuine strike action and returned to work without claiming to have achieved anything concrete out of the strike action. The system took care of itself.
Can this measure be enforced in Ghana? The lack of political will and the fear of losing political capital from organized labour scare the politicians and their cohorts in charge of the Ministries, Departments, and Agencies. I am waiting for that day when a bold government will ensure that workers are not paid for the period that they go on strike and that the rules of the game are laid out and enforced.
On that score, the challenge will be for the employer to ensure equity and transparency in dealing with organized labour. Until the system is streamlined and every player knows that there are consequences for any action or inaction that disrupts the chain of production, what Nunoo-Mensah complained about will continue to be our country’s bane.
Yes, workers have the constitutional right to go on strike in demand redress but they need to know their limits just as the employer must. If this free-for-all situation persists, nothing sensible will emerge to change the dynamics for the country’s good.
I think that is the nub of Nunoo-Mensah’s effusions, even though he chose words wrongly and allowed what shouldn’t have been highlighted in his utterances to overshadow the bitter truth that he had to convey. To me, he is no sacrificial lamb to use in getting at the government and must be assessed as an individual with genuine concerns. His manner of expressing them—or the distance he went in expressing them—might come across as reprehensible, but such is the unavoidable difficulty inherent in how bitter truths are told or come across when told.   
Obviously, though, industrial actions are potent political tools used by workers to press home their demands for better service conditions. The constitution allows that freedom and the various collective bargaining agreements at various workplaces also endorse that line of action.
What is troubling, however, is the spate of industrial actions and the circumstances surrounding them, especially on suspicion that some disgruntled political forces have infiltrated the ranks of organized labour and might be stage-managing the strike actions to achieve their objectives of making the government unpopular to be rejected at the polls.
Be that as it may, the buck ends with the government itself, which is why Nunoo-Mensah’s utterance has not sunk well with those criticizing him. Of course, it is the responsibility of the government (the main employer) and all stake holders to ensure that service conditions are favourable and the congenial atmosphere is created for productivity to be raised.
In our current situation, there seems to be little on the board, which is why the government is being pushed to the wall. Its resilience is at risk and unless drastic action is taken to reverse the negative trend, the situation won’t abate soon.
In that sense, nerves will remain raw, and unguarded utterances of the sort made by Nunoo-Mensah will nettle society, however genuine they may be as an expression of frustration and apprehension at the damage caused by uncontrollable industrial actions of the sort threatening the relationship between the government and organized labour.
Even then, dialogue between the government and organized labour and a genuine commitment toward solving problems should be the norm, not misguided utterances from those in authority. And workers, especially their leaders, should also stand firm and separate pure labour-related issues from partisan political ones so that they don’t create any favourable condition to be exploited by the disgruntled politicians lurking around.
The workers’ leaders must ensure that they don’t overdo things to destabilize the industrial atmosphere and endanger the national economy all the more. Whatever genuine grievances they have must be carefully channelled to the appropriate quarters for redress. They must ensure that negotiations determine the line of action and not cloud their judgement with politically motivated intrigues.
All must remember that none is more patriotic than anybody else and that the national interest must always be placed ahead of all considerations. In that sense, then, none should be so narrow-minded as to think that using industrial action for pursuing personal interests is the main means at their disposal. More importantly, it must be drummed home to all that the issues being cited as the motivation for industrial action are part of the age-old systemic problems militating against national development.
In this regard, then, all must look beyond cosmetic measures and seek solutions that will have long-lasting impact on national life. Nunoo-Mensah has set the ball rolling, and all must act judiciously to find solutions, not compound existing problems or create new ones to add to them. Ghana deserves better. Probably, this twist can help us appreciate better Nunoo-Mensah’s effusions.
I shall return…
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