We are suffering workers cry

THOUSANDS of workers yesterday thronged certain streets of Accra to protest against hikes in utility tariffs and fuel prices.

The usually busy commercial centre and lorry station, the Obra Spot at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle, the point of convergence of the demonstrators, witnessed the sounds of vuvuzelas and the sight of red attire worn by members of organised labour unions.

By 9 a.m., thousands of workers had already taken over the Obra Spot.

Those arriving in buses were welcomed by the deafening sounds of cheers and vuvuzelas by their colleagues who were already waiting at the spot.

While they waited to begin the march, some chanted, sang and danced around to demonstrate their disgust at utility price hikes and increases in fuel prices, as well as general harsh economic conditions.

The workers demonstrated against the upward review of electricity and water tariffs by 59.2 per cent and 67.2 per cent, respectively, by the Public Utilities Regulatory Commission (PURC) and called for the scrapping of the Energy Sector Levies Act, which increased fuel by almost 30 per cent.

Dumsor song
The workers sang and danced to a song they had composed for the occasion — “Who is the dumsor king? Mahama is the dumsor king. Mahama is the dumsor king. He takes my light away. He takes my light away…He gives me bills that I cannot pay… Mahama is the dumsor king.”

Others held up their placards, singing and dancing in a circle, while another group lit a torch as part of their manifestation.

The peaceful march took the protestors from the Kwame Nkrumah Circle through the Independence Avenue, the TUC Head Office, the National Theatre, the Ministries and ended at the Black Star Square, where giant speakers were mounted for the leaders of organised labour to address them.

By 10.45 a.m., the protestors had arrived at the Black Star Square with sweaty faces, sticky shirts and dusty shoes but they were undaunted, as they continued chanting, singing and dancing.

Leading the workers were executives and leaders of unions and associations, including the Secretary General of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), Mr Kofi Asamoah; his deputy, Dr Yaw Baah; the Executive Secretary of the Civil and Local Government Staff Association (CLOGSAG), Mr Isaac Bampoe Addo; the Chairman of the Teachers and Educational Workers Union (TEWU), Mr Peter Lumor; the Chairman of the Tema District Council of Labour, Mr Wilson Agana, and the General Secretary of the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (ICU), Mr Solomon Kotei.

March
The demonstrators held placards, some of which read: “We want the utility tariffs cut in half now!”, “Tell the President: We are suffering in the land of our birth”, “The wages of a worker are his due and not a gift”, “If you can’t provide us with jobs, don’t kill us with utility bills”, “President Mahama, your promises are too gargantuan & unprecedented”, “Spare us our future, politicians!”, “Ghana, accountability not found”, “Mr President, are you a specialist in setting up committees and commissions?” and “Organised labour demonstration, suffering in the land Jan 20, 2016”.

Some passers-by and commuters in trotros, taxis and other vehicles took a keen interest in the demonstration, with some taking pictures on their cell phones.

Others joined in the demonstration when the march began.

Hawkers, taking advantage of the large number of demonstrating workers, busily sold vuvuzelas, red caps, red bands and other red items.

Black Star Square
When Mr Asamoah mounted the podium to address the demonstrators at the Black Star Square, the sound of vuvuzelas erupted like the amplified buzz of bees.

He called for a reduction in utility tariffs to 50 per cent and the withdrawal of the Energy Sector Levies Act, which increased fuel prices by almost 30 per cent.

He observed that the increment had brought untold hardship on Ghanaians.

“The working group set up by your office to work out an amicable solution has failed to produce satisfactory results. The message we are getting from our participants in the working group shows that government remains adamant to our demands.

“We are aware of the stick the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is holding over the government following the extended credit facility. The IMF might have convinced you to implement these measures, but we would like to draw your attention to the social and political implications of such actions which are completely divorced from the reality facing Ghanaians.

“IMF policies have never delivered prosperity to any country anywhere in the world.  The negative effect of IMF policies is overwhelming,” he told the workers, but apparently making references to the President.

Mr Asamoah added that the demonstration was meant to drum home to the government in a more forceful manner the difficulties and challenging economic conditions the increases in utilities and the fuel levy had brought to Ghanaians.

“The governance system in which taxation becomes an obsession is socially undemocratic and unacceptable. It is our fervent hope that today’s demonstration will touch your heart. Organised labour is not in denial of some increases in utility tariffs.

However, given the current situation of Ghanaians, where the salaries of public sector workers have gone up by 10 per cent, while inflation has gone up by 17 per cent, the levels of current increases are unbearable to workers and business.

“Any attempt to fix all our economic challenges within a couple of months or within a year can lead to social instability, with implications for both the economy and the state,” he said. 
He, however, said labour was available for dialogue on amicable solutions to the challenges.

Response
When the Minister of Employment and Labour Relations, Mr Haruna Iddrisu, took over the microphone after receiving the petition from the labour unions, some demonstrators began to clap and chant: “Away! Away! Away!”

Mr Iddrisu pledged to deliver the message to President John Dramani Mahama, but said while the government appreciated the grievances of labour, its actions were necessary and compelling.

“We could have chosen an easier path for political expediency, especially in an election year. That should lead all to appreciate the fact that we need to improve the growth of the economy and strengthen the country’s energy institutions for sustainable development.

“The decisions we have taken, as difficult as they may be, may protect your jobs in the immediate and foreseeable future. We will continue the negotiations and the government will make some overtures to meet some of your demands. At least on one leg, we should be able to meet you half way in the interest of a win-win strategy.

“The government does not take joy in inflicting pain on the Ghanaian worker. We know our decisions hurt; they hurt businesses, they hurt workers, but we have done this in order to protect jobs,” he added.

The police
The police were there in their numbers and very cooperative.

They stood by, observing the manifestations, while their leaders concluded final discussions in relation to the demonstration with the leaders of organised labour unions.

When the march started, a cordon of policemen walked with and followed the demonstrating workers.

To prevent a spillover of the protestors onto unauthorised routes, the police mounted barricades at various junctions right from the Kwame Nkrumah Circle to the TUC Head Office.

Some of the policemen, in a friendly manner, engaged in conversation with some of the protesters.
Apart from policemen in riot gear, there were also the police media who, with their cameras and recorders, filmed and recorded every detail of the march.

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