Accra, Ghana (PANA) – A potentially debilitating strike declared last Tuesday by organised labour dominated the Ghanaian media this week.
The leadership of organised labour has called a strike for 18 November to protest against increases in water and electricity tariffs that went into effect on 1 October saying the government has failed to listen to their demands to bring down the tariffs to one-third and stagger the remainder over two years.
In a statement issued in Accra they asked all workers in both the formal and informal sectors to stay at home in protest against the new tariffs.
Labour groups in all the 10 regions are to convene meetings to plan and stage demonstrations in all the regional capitals before 18 November.
The official independent regulator, Public Utilities Regulatory Commission (PURC), approved 78.9 per cent and 52 per cent increases in electricity and water tariffs, respectively, but the labour leaders rejected the new tariffs and gave a 10-day ultimatum for their reduction or workers would embark on strike.
A Technical Working Group (TWG) on utility tariffs set up by the government to look at the increases and examine mitigating measures stated that a 50 per cent increase in the price of electricity was not sustainable because the revenue that would accrue from that increase would not be able to cover the production and transmission cost.
The irony is that Ghana is just emerging from a crippling electricity crisis during which power was rationed to consumers and the government has been inviting independent power producers to generate more electricity but those companies need a guaranteed price that will keep them in business.
The state-owned Graphic reported the story on Wednesday under the headline, “Organised labour declares strike on Nov. 18.”
It said organised labour said it declared the nationwide strike after failing to reach an agreement with the government and the PURC over the hike in utility tariffs.
It is requesting all workers to stay at home in protest against the "astronomical increase in utility tariffs".
The state-owned Ghanaian Times had the headline, “Organised labour orders strike,” with the story saying the leadership of organised labour had directed all workers in both the formal and informal sectors to stay at home on Monday, 18 November.
It further directed all workers in the 10 regions to convene meetings to plan and stage demonstrations in all regional capitals before 18 November.
The Graphic published a story under the headline “We can't reduce tariffs – PURC,” in which it quoted the PURC as saying it had no plans to reduce tariffs to meet the demands of organised labour.
The Director of Public Relations and External Affairs of the PURC, Nana Yaa Jantuah, warned that any further reduction could cripple the utility service providers and lead the country back to the era of load-shedding.
“If we are going to reduce (tariffs), we are going to be doing load-shedding,” she said, adding that instead of the proposed 150 per cent increase on electricity, the PURC settled on 78.9 per cent.
The media also carried reactions by government and the public to the strike call.
“Brouhaha over tariffs: We need dialogue not strike,” was the headline in the Graphic quoting the Minister of Information and Media Relations, Mahama Ayariga.
The story said the government wanted labour to engage it constructively through meaningful discussions instead of strike threats.
Ayariga appealed to Ghanaians to appreciate the challenges facing the economy, adding that if Ghanaians wanted the government to subsidise utility tariffs, they must agree through debates.
He said although the government appreciated the concerns of the public over the increases in tariffs, there was the need for the people to appreciate that the measures were necessary interventions required to build and sustain utility providers to continue to provide efficient and reliable services.
“Tariffs reduction will affect development – Minister,” was the headline in the Ghanaian Times, with the story saying the government had warned that meeting the demands of organised labour on the tariff of utilities would affect the ability to implement critical development projects and programmes.
A Deputy Minister of Information and Media Relations, Felix Kwakye Ofosu, said on Wednesday that yielding to workers’ demands would affect the financial viability of the utility companies and plunge the nation back into a power crisis.
Additionally, the salary arrears due workers following the 10% increase in public sector workers’ pay and projects like the construction of community senior high schools would be affected.
An Accra-based radio station, Joy FM, published a reaction of a minister of state under the headline, “Low tariffs scaring away investors - Pelpuo asserts.”
It said Rashid Pelpuo, Minister of State at the Presidency in charge of Public Private Partnerships, disclosed that some investors in the energy sector had deserted the nation due to the low tariff regime.
“Some of them are unhappy with the tariff levels and they have decided that they won’t come in, because they can’t come and invest this much and the people of Ghana will only pay a small bit of it, so they have pulled (out) saying they can’t come and produce at a loss.”
Pelpuo said with the recent hikes in utility tariffs, however, many of them are willing to start operations in Ghana.
“As we get more energy into the system, prices will fall but for now it is important for us to understand the price regime,” he said.
Meanwhile, some independent power producers currently working in the country are warning of a possible breakdown of the economy should government and PURC heed the demand by organized labour to reduce utility tariffs.
The Sunon Asogli Plant, one of the private producers, warns that reducing utility tariffs will cripple producers’ ability to generate power and growth in the industry.
Togbe Afede XIV, a Director of the plant, says Ghana’s economy will consequently collapse.
He said residents in neighbouring countries were paying twice as much as what organized labour is striking against.
The radio station also published another reaction on its website under the headline “Gangs waiting to destabilise Ghana - Security expert warns.”
It says Dr Kwesi Anin warns of possible unrest if the intended nationwide strike and demonstrations are not controlled.
He cautions that the perception that Ghana cannot not be plunged into a conflict situation is not correct.
Dr Anin, who is the Head of Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution Department of the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre in Accra, charged security agencies to “track known provocateurs who move from one country in West Africa to the other to hijack” such legitimate demonstrations.
He said although a strike was a legitimate right of organized labour, simultaneous “strikes across the country, with the limited number of police officers" will be difficult to police.
Another Accra-based radio station Citi FM, carried a story under the headline “TUC strike won’t jeopardise security – Kofi Asamoah.” It said the TUC secretary-general, Kofi Asamoah, had dismissed the security concerns saying those fears should be dismissed since the strike would be done within the confines of the law.
“The law prescribes what to do. I don't think TUC's strike should be blown to a level where one will think that it can pose a security threat to the country because we will give notifications to security agencies to ensure that nothing untoward happens,” he said.
Asamoah further said the TUC was prepared to engage in discussions on their challenges with the recent hikes in tariffs.
Meanwhile, the Coordinator of National Security, Lieutenant Colonel Larry Gbevlo-Lartey (Retired), has emphasized the need for organised labour to resolve the matter amicably.
“I don’t think there is any turbulence; I think they should be able to resolve the matter amicably.”
“This is not anything that anybody should be alarmed about. The appropriate state agencies which are to ensure that these issues are settled so that the economy of the state is not robbed are the ones that we rely on to do their job, “he added.
The Graphic reported on Saturday that PURC had agreed to engage stakeholders, especially organised labour, on the tariff increases.
In a story under the headline, "Organised labour, PURC to dialogue," the newspaper quoted the PURC as saying this had been necessitated by the fact that arguments on the new tariffs had become a dispute which needed to be resolved amicably.
-0- PANA MA 2Nov2013