Ghanaian workers today [May 1] are joining millions of workers across the world to mark May Day, known in some countries as Workers’ Day.
The day is set aside to recognize and celebrate the contribution of Ghanaian workers to nation building.
The President, Nana Akufo-Addo will be the special guest of honour at this year’s national celebration which is being held at the Independence Square in Accra.
The theme for this year’s celebration is, “Ghana @ 60: Mobilising Ghana’s Future through the creation of Decent Jobs.”
Separate parades will be held in other parts of the country to mark the day.
During such parades, the various workers’ unions march with placards bearing various messages commending colleagues and conveying messages of their expectation of government.
The occasion also presents the opportunity to some disgruntled labour unions to express their discontent with government’s handling of issues such as their salaries and conditions of service.
Trade unionism in Ghana
The Trade Union Ordinance of 1941 was enacted by the British colonialists to legalise the formation of trade unions in the country. The move was to avoid the kind of labour struggles that had accompanied the industrial revolution in Europe and elsewhere.
Prior to that, however, the first industrial action had occurred in the country in 1919 when miners embarked on a strike to press home their demand for better wages.
Permanent organisations such as the Gold and Silver Smith’s Association, the Colony and Ashanti Motor Union and the Carpenters and Masons Union were all founded in the 1920s.
In 1954, the Gold Coast Trades Union Congress (TUC) was founded, with an initial membership of 6,030 and 14 affiliates. It was an appendage of the ruling Convention People’s Party (CPP).
By 1957, splinter groups had developed in the country, many of them being much more militant than the TUC.
In order to “clip their wings” and strengthen the TUC, the CPP government passed the Industrial Relations Act of 1958, a move which gave legal recognition to the TUC.
The 1966 coup was welcomed by many who were discontent with the TUC’s loyalty to the government. The new military government repealed the compulsory TUC membership for civil servants, a move which made the TUC shrink from 700,000 to 300,000 members.
The years 1966 to 1969 witnessed many strikes, leading to sour relationships between labour and government.
In 1969, when Kofi Abrefa Busia came to power, he expressed his support for the existence of a “free and independent labour movement” but the relationship was soon to deteriorate.
Following heavy inflation, the TUC called on the Busia administration to raise salaries, a call the government refused to heed. To make matters worse, it introduced a development levy, which was a new tax on all workers.
Angered by Busia’s move, the workers and the TUC criticised the government heavily.
Busia, in a bid to show workers “where power lies,” amended the 1958 Industrial Relations Act in September 1971, dissolving the TUC and freezing all its assets. The move shocked the nation.
It was not until Gen Ignatius Kutu Acheampong assumed office that the TUC was restored.
When the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) came to power in 1981, it sought co-operation with the TUC but it did not receive the support it wanted. It embarked on a series of actions which clearly pointed to the fact that it wanted to undermine the TUC. For example, it established the People’s and Workers Defence Committees parallel to the existing TUC structures. Other actions soured the relationship further.
After democratic rule was restored, the relationship improved.
In 1999, the Ghana Federation of Labour was formed as an umbrella organisation for independent trade unions. In 2003, a tripartite National Labour Commission (NLC) was created to help resolve disputes.
Every year, the government is confronted with numerous labour agitations over major concerns such as delayed and non-payment of salaries, poor conditions of service among others.
Labour unions such as the Ghana Medical Association (GMA), the Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT), the National Association of Graduate Teachers (NAGRAT), the University Teachers Association of Ghana (UTAG), the Federation of Universities Senior Staff Association (FUSSAG) have embarked on various industrial actions seeking their welfare.
Although such grievances have not always been fully addressed by government, it [government] have always sought to negotiate with the unions to avoid chaos on the labour front.
By: Jonas Nyabor/citifmonline.com/Ghana