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Opinions of Monday, 26 June 2006

Columnist: Adomako, Appiah Kusi

Productivity And Pay: Should Government Borrow To Pay Labour?

The labour front in the country for the past weeks has been marked with a series of prolonged strikes by sections of the national workforce. This is happening at a time when we have there is an act to regulate organised labour and its activities. This is the first time there has been such a large scale strike action in our thirteen years of democratic rule.

Everybody now wants to go to strike in the country. Doctors, nurses and other paramedical staff, TEWU, and many other workers groups want to go to strike. Innocent people have died owing to protracted negotiations which do not seem to yield much.

On the labour front, strikes are needed as the last resort should all available means of negotiation fail. Sadly as it is in Ghana, it appears that the only music and dance which our political leaders understand is strike. So strikes have become an everyday phenomenon in the country even when junior doctors at Korle Bu Teaching Hospital are complaining about the food that they take at the cafeteria, they would want to go on strike to press home their demands. If union leaders and their employers are to sit on the table to negotiate I believe that strikes would be like the eclipse of the sun which occurs twice in every century. The question is, when can strikes be justified and when are the not justifiable?

Strike by health workers in this country has become overused and do not seem to be as effective a tool any longer which is why such strikes tend to go on and on. Everyday health workers in the country are complaining of low remuneration and go on strike at the least opportunity . If everybody in the country wants to go strike what would happen. The notion that one profession is important that the other one is sociologically absurd. Every job is important for national progress.

We will be deceiving ourselves if we compare our wages to doctors in England or in the USA. What for instance is the United Kingdom annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP)? What is the minimum wage in that country? It would be wrong if we only look at one side of the cuboid and make hasty generalisations. Salary levels in Ghana are not the best. I belong to a school of thought which believes in paying realistic wages to workers in this country. May be we may have to make progressive steps in improving this so that in the near future when we have retired our children and grandchildren can get a living wage not just the minimum wage. A friend of mine says that the minimum wage is what your employer can give you whilst the living wage is what the employee can take and live by.

In comparing salaries with some countries, we may have to look at some factors, as already mentioned above. How much do we buy a gallon of patrol in Ghana and that in the advanced countries? In the UK for instance, a gallon of patrol is ¢ 74,205. Our education from primary to university is still subsided by the government. In the USA one would have to pay FULL FEES at the universities. In the most countries, one needs loans to pay for tuition. How much do we pay our school fees in our universities? How much do they pay for accommodation per month and other living expenses in the UK and USA? When we look at this, it is a possibility for the Ghana High Commissioner in United Kingdom to collect a higher salary than his boss, the sector Minister for Foreign Affairs and NEPAD because of living expenses.

If we must compare salary levels with some of these countries, then we need to also compare and contrast the kind of work which people do in these countries compared to Ghana. My acquaintance with England has been limited to short visits but I can say that workers there diligently work well and provide value for money. Look at the time people generally report to work and the time we close from work.

Should salaries in Ghana be tied to productivity as some organisations like the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) do? The IRS is made to retain some part of their revenue collection to pay themselves. The need to be competitive in the liberalised global economy has prompted many companies in the country to link wages to productivity. In some developed countries, it has found that companies were increasingly linking their wage system to profits and recognising individual contributions based on performance. Back in Ghana we have not changed the system of remuneration especially in the public sector. It is even possible for someone to be absent from work for about two weeks and still take his salary at the end of the month.

Salary increment on merit

Such a system motivates workers to be more productive as it rewards them based on performance. A recent study says that salary increments based on merit had a significant impact on productivity over the years and automatic fixed yearly increments are no longer the norm.

We need a diligent workforce. Low productivity characterises much of our workforce especially in the public services. This needs to change. A country like Netherlands whose total surface area is almost Ghana has its GDP more than that the whole of Africa. This means that our GDP as a nation is still asymptotically zero. We are not hard working enough. Attitudes at work are not the good enough. You can only get the best from your sweat and not the other way round.

You do not establish a sugar company and go to a bread factory at the end of the month to borrow money to pay for wages and salaries. The government cannot find money from oblivion to increase salaries. If government can start paying economic wages, the workforce has to work to increase productivity to enable this to happen. In the same vein, government needs to motivate workers to be able to increase productivity. Like the egg and hen story, which comes first? The reality however is that none of these can happen overnight. It is in this regard that I believe that workers leaders have to exercise restraint and work together with the politicians to achieve our common objectives. If we cannot find common ground, lets not forget that Ghana as a whole is the loser. But we have come too far to want to give up.

Appiah Kusi Adomako is an international freelance writer and the president of the Ghana Chapter of Leaders of Tomorrow Foundation. He can be contacted through: Leaders of Tomorrow Foundation, P.O. BOX. KS 13640. Kumasi. Tel E-mail:

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