Hundreds of workers marched through the principal streets of Accra yesterday, to protest against the “imposition of hardship” on Ghanaians by the government.
The demonstration, under the umbrella of Organised Labour, the umbrella body of workers unions, was to exert pressure on the government to withdraw the recently introduced energy sector levy which resulted in increases of petroleum products, and a reduction in the utility tariffs.
The demonstration was the first step in a road map developed by the group to pressurise government to meet their demands.
It is to be followed by a nationwide strike, all in an attempt to have the levy reversed.
Members of Organised Labour include the Trades Union Congress, the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union, Ghana Medical Association, the Judicial Service Association of Ghana and the Ghana Registered Nurses and Midwives Association.
The rest are the Ghana National Association of Teachers, National Association of Graduate Teachers, Coalition of Concerned Teachers, Ghana Federation of Labour, and the Civil and Local Government Staff Association of Ghana, among others.
The Energy Sector Levy Act, which was passed in December last year, and took effect from January 1, resulted in-between 18 and 28 per cent increment in the price of petroleum products.
Government, in an earlier meeting with the leadership of Organised Labour, tried to justify the increment, saying it is in the best interest of the country to sustain to solve the energy problems which had affected economic growth.
It has, however, hinted of its preparedness to review the utility tariffs that had gone up by 59.2 per cent and 67.2 per cents for electricity and water, respectively.
The protesters, mostly clad in red apparel and armbands, held placards with inscriptions such as, “Oh Mahama, why”, “Reverse killer taxes”, “Ghana for sale by government”, “Should we die before election 2016”, “November 7 is just in the corner”, “Check the leakages,” amongst others.
Amidst dancing to tunes blaring from sound systems mounted on the back of vehicles and brass band, the march commenced at the Obra Spot at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle, and ended at the Independence Square.
Unlike politically-inclined demonstrations, the police had a less difficult task protecting the protestors, as they adhered to the approved route agreed upon for the march which was incident-free.
Onlookers along the route were not left out, as they used their smart phones to snap pictures of the imposing numbers that moved at a snails pace, resulting in long hours of traffic congestion along the streets.
The Secretary-General of the Trades Union Congress, Mr. Kofi Asamoah, presenting a petition to the President through the Minister of Employment and Labour Relations, said the march was to bring home to government, in a more forceful manner, the difficulties and the desperate social and economic conditions the utility tariff increases and the new levies and taxes had brought on the Ghanaian worker.
“A governance system in which taxation of the ordinary man and woman becomes an obsession is socially undemocratic and unacceptable,” he stated and hoped that the protest march would “touch” the heart of the President for a reduction.
He said the levels of increments were unbearable for workers and businesses, and asked government to reduce the increased water and electricity tariffs to 50 per cent, and that the “lifeline consumption for water should remain at between zero and 20 cubic metres”.
The TUC boss also requested the government to withdraw the energy levies which had occasioned “very steep increases in petroleum prices at a time when crude oil prices are tumbling on the international market, and the exchange rate of the Ghana Cedi is relatively stable”.
The Employment and Labour Relations Minister, Haruna Iddrisu, responding, said the government was prepared to dialogue with the workers for an amicable solution to the impasse.
He described the concerns of the workers as “legitimate”, but reiterated that the increments were in the “best interest of the nation”.
According to him, government remained sensitive to the plight of Ghanaians and would not impose hardship on Ghanaians.
The Tamale Central lawmaker disclosed that the President was ready to host the leadership of the demonstrators at the seat of government today, for further talks on how to reach a common ground.
The Greater Accra Regional Police Commander, COP Dr. George Akufo Dampari, speaking in an interview with a cross-section of the media, commended the protestors for respecting the laws governing demonstrations in the country.
By Julius Yao Petetsi