I feel very honoured and at the same time humbled to have this rare opportunity to address this august gathering of the National Executive Council of our Great Union at its maiden meeting in the first half of the first year of the Union’s 12th Quadrennial period commencing today August 20, 2020, here in Sunyani, the capital of the Bono Region of Ghana.
What makes this occasion momentous but at the same time solemn is that, although I have been part of the Leadership of our Great Union for almost a decade now in various capacities; I stand here before you today as the newly elected General Secretary in the stead of our immediate past General Secretary, Brother Prince William Ankrah, who retired in December 2019, after almost three decades of selfless service to our Great Union.
As we gather here to review the activities of the Union for the first half of 2020, plan activities for the second half and also discuss some critical issues of national importance, let me seize this singular opportunity to say a special ayekoo, thank you, to all our gallant members across the country for their continuous hard work, tenacity and absolute sense of patriotism.
Indeed, if today our beloved country Ghana is still surviving on some “oxygen” (cash to keep social services among others running) amidst this pandemic, the Government and the people of Ghana owe the mining industry and our members in particular depths of gratitude for their resilience, sacrifice and a great sense of fortitude during this stressful period of the novel coronavirus pandemic which has bedeviled the world.
Like our compatriots in South Africa and elsewhere who called for the total shutdown of mines, many were the skeptics who believed that Ghana Mineworkers’ Union needed to follow a similar route by calling for the shutdown of mines in Ghana particularly when the first case of COVID-19 was recorded in Obuasi.
However, with a unity of purpose, the strength of our convictions, supporting and working with our social partners, and above all, the infinite mercies of the Almighty God on our side, we have continued to weather the storm.
Brother Chairperson, without placing any special premium, let me say that the Ghana Mineworkers’ Union was among a few institutions who were convinced right from the outset of the pandemic that a total shutdown of the mining industry and by extension the entire economy was not a sustainable option, not because we were not concerned about the health and safety of our members, but we were equally concerned about the potentially far-reaching consequences on the economy and the citizenry, which undoubtedly manifested when the Government attempted its lockdown programme.
As I delve into the key issues in my address, let me also join you in welcoming everyone here for making time off their busy schedules to partake in our mid-year National Executive Council meeting.
COVID-19 and Matters Arising
We are barely half-way through the year 2020, but I can say without hesitation that many of us here-in gathered wish it had ended already because of the happenings so far. This year begun like any other normal year with most activities both at the macro and micro levels falling in place as planned by governments, businesses and many other organizations. But alas! A novel coronavirus which was later christened Covid-19 by the World Health Organization, and which had surfaced in Wuhan, China in the last quarter of 2019 hit the entire globe in the first quarter of 2020 and till date, the debilitating impact of the pandemic continues to rage like wildfire exacting irreparable damage to the core of many socioeconomic activities in proportions not witnessed not even during the great recession.
The COVID-19 tragedy has had a toll on the global population as infections and deaths continue to rise across many regions of the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), as of August 18 2020, a colossal 21,756,357 people had been infected with the virus globally, with 771,635 deaths. WHO further disaggregates the figure into its regions with the Americas leading the pack with 11,667,196 infections with 419,995 deaths. Africa is last but one with a total of 960,055 infections and 18,922 deaths. The Western Pacific has the least infections of 419,665 and a death toll of 9,446.
Specific to Ghana, the pandemic has left its traces. The Ghana Health Service reported on August 18, 2020, that the total case count has reached 42,993 with 40,796 recovered cases. The total deaths also stood at 248. Comparatively, the impact of the pandemic on Ghana’s population has, like many Sub-Saharan countries, been relatively minimal but the factors accounting for this low numbers is a subject matter being investigated within the medical circles whilst others, including the President, attribute it to the infinite mercies of God; a view the Union shares.
Undoubtedly, the impact of the pandemic has been massive with virtually the entire world economy going under some form of lockdown or restrictions. According to the Ministry of Finance mid-year budget review, the pandemic has had dire consequences on countries all over the world through:
- disruptions in global supply chains, widespread supply shortages (including food, pharmaceuticals and manufactured goods) and consequent price hikes;
- a decline in foreign direct investments;
- significant job losses;
- volatility and collapse of stock markets due to high uncertainty;
- a decline in tourism and international travel resulting in revenue losses;
- unanticipated increases in health and other pandemic containment expenditure with significant implications for fiscal and debt sustainability;
- a decline in remittances; and
- tightened global financing conditions despite monetary interventions to cut interest rates.
Ghana has since March 12, 2020, when the first case of the pandemic was recorded in the country, experienced its fair share of the socioeconomic impact of the disease. The Ministry of Finance mid-year budget review indicated that the combined effect of the pandemic is that, Ghana’s overall economic growth and revenue are expected to fall sharply while expenditures are expected to rise. The economic shock of the pandemic has manifested through external trade disruptions (particularly with China), a decline in commodity prices (particularly oil whose prices have fallen by more than half and tightening of global financial markets. COVID-19 has also led to disruption in corporate and general business confidence, with threats to projected revenues, profitability, liquidity and corporate growth. The overall fiscal deficit is projected to increase from the programmed GH¢18.9 billion (4.7% of GDP) to GH¢30.2 billion (7.8% of revised GDP). The primary balance will correspondingly worsen from a surplus of GH¢2,811 billion (0.7% of revised GDP) to a deficit of GH¢5.6 billion (1.4% of GDP). Expenditures, on the other hand, are expected to increase by GH¢11,788 million (3.1% of revised GDP), reflecting mainly expenditures on COVID-19 Preparedness & Response Plan, provision of Health Infrastructure (Agenda 111), Coronavirus Alleviation Programme etc.
As a workers’ organization, we take full notice of Government’s efforts and response to the COVID-19 fight and in our assessment, it has been quite colossal and this is manifested in its varying intervention programmes. Indeed, the Government viewed the supply of logistics for the health sector as a first-order priority and provided tonnes of PPEs worth millions of dollars to protect health workers in the fight. Again, in motivating health workers, the Government provided a life insurance package for those directly involved in surveillance, case management, laboratory, and all other health and allied personnel who get infected.
To further cushion and incentivize frontline workers, Government waived personal income taxes for 137,000 health workers, offered an allowance of 50 percent of basic salary for about 10,000 frontline health workers, and provided them transportation for the duration of the lockdown. The government also temporarily subsidized electricity consumption of the one million lifeline customers and subsidized 50 percent of the consumption of all other customers. This livelihood preservation programme for the 4,086,286 households (and 686,522 businesses) added an unplanned GH¢1.02 billion to Government expenditures. A stimulus package under the CAP Business Support Scheme (CAP BuSS) totaling GH¢600.0 million was designed to specifically support micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs). These among others have been containment measures taken to support citizens and businesses and the economy.
Yes, it may be easy to conclude that these are mere responsibilities of a Government to its people and so there is nothing exceptional about these interventions. But I dare ask, isn’t that part of how, as citizens, we believe our taxes ought to be expended for the greater good of society, rather than on the many other corruption scandals that continue to bedevil us, benefit only a few, impoverish the greater majority of the citizenry and drag our country’s development so much backward?
Let me therefore on behalf of the Ghana Mineworkers’ Union and all its members commend the Government of Ghana for its sterling leadership in this Covid-19 fight so far.
Whilst commending Government for its bold response to Covid-19 so far, what is abundantly clear and worth highlighting however is the fact that as a country and a people, we do not contemplate disasters or future eventualities and therefore we do not plan, and even where we have a plan, we are so ineffective at following through these plans. Instead, we have the growing penchant and attitude of leaving our destinies to chance hoping that God Almighty will come down from heaven and do it for us or at worse; He will intervene or come to our rescue anytime disaster strikes. Brother Chairperson, whilst we cannot underrate the power of God, we must also remember that hope is and cannot be a strategy and indeed has never proven to be one.
This pervasive national lackluster attitude and culture has unfortunately proven time and again to be ineffective, unproductive and therefore not working for us. It is therefore important in our forward march as a country to contemplate and put together plans that include a Comprehensive National Emergency Response Plan whose character is multifaceted and multidisciplinary to respond to future pandemics, disasters and other eventualities.
Political pronouncements may be good and that is what politicians do, but as a trade union organization, we believe these pronouncements must find full expression in a broader national agenda and not knee-jerk if we want to see a transformed and prosperous Ghana where systems work. It is of this background that we believe that the announcement by Government about the setting up of an Unemployment Insurance Scheme as a response to Covid-19 and other future pandemics albeit a great idea, must find full expression in a broader national agenda; if not it may end up being one of the many orphan policies which may never achieve its intended objective.
To this end, we expect Government to take a comprehensive and long term view of its intention to institute an Unemployment Insurance Scheme and situate it within a broader national agenda in order to ensure its full promotion and realization in the long run.
Covid-19 Rare Positives
Leveraging Favourable Commodity (Gold) Price for the Creation of Decent and Sustainable Jobs
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the narrative has not only been doom and gloom but a world that faces uncertain future as the events unfolding continue to defy experts forecast and throw into total disarray most of the predictions indicating a near term global recovery. However, for the global gold industry, the story is completely different as the industry is standing out as the utmost beneficiary of this global health crisis. Gold has, since the beginning of the year, seen an unprecedented break-through in its price as it soared above two thousand US dollars an ounce (US$2,000/oz) as of August 2, 2020. The World Gold Councils has posited that “Gold has been on a generally positive trend for the past few years. However, the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic has made gold’s relevance as a hedge even more apparent and accelerated its price performance. Gold increased by 17% during the first half of 2020, moving up by an additional 10% in July”.
According to Kitco.com, the average gold price for January 2020 was US$1,560.67/oz and this begun to rise steadily from the unset of the pandemic hitting a March average of US$1,591.93/oz when the global spread of the disease was intensifying. As countries begun to impose restrictions and lockdowns affecting major economic activities; stocks, currencies and other investment instruments started plummeting in value. This spike the prices of gold to a June 2020 average of US$1,732.22/oz and the highest price of US$1,786.04/oz since 2012. Then finally, an all-time record price of US$2,051.02/oz was recorded on August 5, 2020, ostensibly due to the new wave of infections that were being recorded in countries such as Germany, South Korea, Australia, Japan that appear to have contained the pandemic much better.
This positive development in the global gold industry undoubtedly will impact the bottom-line of mining companies including those in our industry in Ghana especially given our uninterrupted operations since the pandemic broke out. With the current prices of the precious metal and an all-in-sustaining cost of most of the companies hovering between US$950/oz and US$2,500/oz, the companies are likely to reap an average of US$400/oz windfall (free cash) or more which ought to have a trickling down effects on the industry’s internal and external stakeholders in the value chain.
As a progressive trade union organization that has partnered the industry for well over 75 years and mindful of the growth and expansion of the industry, we want to caution captains of industry to hasten slowly in making expenditure decisions on the windfall that is likely to accrue to them. Any attempt to rush into wanton dissipation of the funds by paying unreasonable dividends to shareholders and prioritizing the payment of executive compensation, or by engaging in questionable procurement or suspicious project acquisition will not augur well for the future of the industry, and where necessary will be resisted.
Brother Chairperson, whilst some skeptics of the mining sector are already advocating for a windfall tax amidst the surging gold price, which may be a fair call, the Ghana Mineworkers’ Union holds a different view. Indeed, considering the colossal havoc Covid-19 continuous to wreck on global economies including ours, the Ghana Mineworkers’ Union is of the firm belief that a highly favourable commodity price demonstrated so far and the potential windfall it brings to mining companies and the industry, presents a huge opportunity not just for job creation but a very important catalyst for economic growth and a path to economic recovery post-COVID-19.
To this end, we expect Government to leverage this huge windfall that would ultimately accrue by demanding from mining companies as they get into the next budget cycles to present ambitious recapitalization plans particularly targeted at modernizing mining infrastructure and systems; expanding exploration activities and ultimately increasing production and backed by a monitoring mechanism to ensure these plans are fully and strictly complied with. This, we believe is a more progressive alternative to windfall tax and would place the mining industry on a sound footing to create additional jobs and ultimately respond to the increased unemployment numbers brought about by Covid-19 in the short and long run; extend companies’ life-of-mine and by extension the industry; grow the industry’s contribution to the national kitty through taxation (direct and indirect) and also contribute to improving the infrastructural development needs of host communities.
Whilst calling for the need for increased investment to expand and create more jobs in our industry, let me also use this opportunity to appreciate our social partners for their exceptional show of professionalism and a great sense of cooperation and collaboration during this period of the pandemic. Indeed, as a key Covid-19 preventive strategy, a good number of our members have had to either work from home or not at all, due to the nature of their jobs, ostensibly to create space, keep the virus at bay, so that the rest of the team can continue to work and to generate revenue.
Observably so far, there has been relative stability in job losses with the emoluments of most of our members intact during this period and we owe that to the true spirit of our cooperation as social partners. We, however, believe that with the easing of restrictions, Government’s policy of “learning to live with the virus”, and the many critical lessons learnt so far, steps would be taken to gradually reintegrate some of the members who are currently home back into the system.
Labour Market Issues and the Mining Industry
The Dangerous Mining Job is Increasingly Becoming Precarious Because of Fixed Term Contract/Labour Brokers/Outsourced Labour
We have a concern because the solid decent work gains achieved in the industry over the years are fast eroding because of;
- the increasing role of private employment agencies,
- increasing use of non-standard forms of employment by some companies in furtherance of their profiteering and corporate greed agenda,
- the loopholes in the Labour Act 2003 (Act 651) and its Legislative Instruments 1822 and 1833,
- successive governments’ apathetic posturing towards labour/workers and the subtle collusion with capital over this labour flexibility concept.
As a trade union, we find it difficult to comprehend why successive Governments, after 18 years of the implementation of the Labour Act has failed to operationalize even one of the public employment centers under Section 2 of the Act to play the critical role imposed on the state under Section 3. Yet, labour ministers continue to conveniently grant executive permission to private employment agencies most of whom are a creation of employers for the ultimate purpose of making workers worse off under the labour flexibility scheme for the ultimate profiteering motives of companies particularly multinationals.
Two other loopholes in Act 651 and Regulation 1833 that are immensely contributing to the precarious work not only in the mines but other industries mostly in the private sector and inhibiting our progress towards the attainment of the decent work agenda are found in Section 66 (a) which ostensibly grants exemptions to employers from paying redundancy/severance to workers engaged in temporary employment. Given this lacuna, and in our view the greatest injustice ever perpetuated against workers, employers have capitalized on this and are engaging workers on all kinds of jobs undercutting throat precarious arrangement all in the bid to escape severance payment; critical employment protection under the law.
This is in direct contravention to Article 2(3) of Convention158 (employment protection), the same convention which was directly domesticated into Labour Act 2003, Act 651, which states that “adequate safeguards shall be provided against recourse to contracts of employment for a specified period of time the aim of which is to avoid the protection resulting from this Convention”.
It is clear from the reading of Article 2(3) of Convention 158 (yet to be ratified by Ghana though) that some employers have deliberately resorted to certain contracts of employment (most of which are not found in law) for a specified period, despite the continuous and uninterrupted nature of their businesses, in order to avoid their obligations under the law and exploit workers. It is for this reason that adequate safeguards are expected to be provided in the law and general employment policy in order that these exploitative and abusive tendencies by some of these employers do not circumvent the protections contemplated by the Convention. Comrades, where are the so-called safeguards in our Labour Act that Convention 158 contemplates??
The worse of it all is the interpretation Regulation 1833 has given to Private Employment Agency to include “Services consisting of employing workers with a view to making them available to a third party who may be a natural or legal person referred to as a “user enterprise” which assigns their tasks and supervises the execution of these tasks” without any authority regulating the contractual interlinkages between the agency and the user enterprise and its ramifications on the “disguised employees” most of whom are suffering a great deal of injustice that defeats every pillar of the decent work agenda including their right to association and collective bargaining. Today, the practice is widespread across the private sector including the dangerous mining work and coupled with lack of supervision and monitoring, high rate of unemployment, employers are milking workers dry through wage theft, denial of workers’ rights and other forms of abuses which are often not reported.
Let me at this stage use this opportunity to serve notice on all companies and private employment agencies particularly in the mining industry whose sole agenda is to profiteer, abuse and resist the right of workers to form or join trade unions of their choosing to amend their ways forthwith or face the wrath of the Ghana Mineworkers’ Union and the TUC (Ghana) in the coming months.
A Growing Social Media Space: Implications on Industrial/Labour/Employment Relations
One other very unfortunate development which is gradually creeping into the industrial/labour/employment relations space and posing an existential threat to the actors particularly trade unions is social media, its use and how that is impacting on the industrial/labour/employment relations. Indeed, hitherto, most parts of human interaction were largely face-to-face with mostly little or no risk to the persons involved in that interaction. However, with the advent of social media, the frequency of human interaction has spiraled but not without its downsides. Regrettably, some employers have used or attempted to use legitimate information shared by employees and trade union leaders on social media platforms for their intended audience as a base to intimidate, victimize, attack and curtail trade union right to communicate with their members, and in some instances have terminated workers under the guise of questionable confidentiality clauses.
My address cannot be complete without mentioning, therefore, the recent unfair termination of the Branch Union Secretary of Newmont Ahafo Mine by the Company on grounds that he communicated in his capacity as a trade union officer to his members via a WhatsApp platform updating them about the status of a pending disciplinary case; a situation it claims amounts to a breach of confidentially. This is undoubtedly, a clear case of unfair labour practice and a very serious attack on trade union rights and certainly cannot be overlooked by the Ghana Mineworkers’ Union.
Even though the matter is currently before the National Labour Commission and is receiving some attention, regrettably slow though, let me state without any equivocation that this issue forms part of the very important issues that would occupy the attention of NEC during these two days of our deliberations. It is, therefore, my expectation that NEC would deliberate thoroughly on the matter and come out with a very clear position.
The foregoing and many other unfortunate occurrences, therefore, makes the review of the Labour 2003 (Act 651) critically and urgently imperative to fix the implementational gaps identified over the years and also make it responsive to the changing needs of the labour market and the actors in the labour/industrial relations space. Consequently, we call on Government and the tripartite partners to prioritize the labour law review without further delay.
Building Societal Power Resources: The “Mineworkers’ Partner Communities Programme”
The Ghana Mineworkers’ Union has in the past 75 years and counting continuously advocated on varying issues for and on behalf of mining communities or communities whose livelihoods are affected by mining, as well as, the greater Ghanaian community. Indeed, part of our many advocacies undoubtedly led to the setting up of the Minerals Development Fund Act, 912 of 2016 to respond to developmental needs of these communities, albeit that the Fund’s full implementation and realization of the intended benefits appear still fraught with challenges even after the constitution of the board of the Fund.
Given that our members and their families live and work within these mining communities, the call for the general improvement in the quality of life of these communities is appropriate and must continue to engage our attention. Indeed intermittent agitations by mining communities on employment matters, the growing disaffection for other citizens/workers of different descent within these communities and its potential implications on our members and their families reinforces the need to institutionalize our relations with these communities and collaborate on every front to ensure we maintain the unity and cohesion amongst working people, host communities and work together to increase and protect decent and sustainable jobs in the long run.
To this end, the Ghana Mineworkers’ Union in the coming weeks and months shall outline an elaborate plan targeted at collaborating and working with communities under its programme dubbed “Mineworkers’ Partner Communities” as part of its flagship programme viz; “Mineworkers’ Partner Programmes” which seeks to institutionalize our relations with key stakeholders including our communities, strengthen ties, pursue joint programmes and mount joint campaigns on issues of national significance and of mutual interest to the partnership.
Government’s Community Mining Programme: A Tacit Approval of Galamsey?
The Government as part of its budget in 2019 launched a programme dubbed “Community Mining Programme” to create the opportunity for communities within mining enclaves to engage in mining as a safer and a more productive alternative to illegal small scale mining popularly known as galamsey. According to the Government, Community Mining Programme is expected to create 16,000 direct jobs nationwide. The Scheme would stimulate wealth creation, promote community involvement and link small scale mining to the rest of the economy and stop the old practice of mining in water bodies.
As part of the programme, Government intends to ensure a successful implementation of the Scheme based on three key strategies viz; formation of Community Mining Oversight Committees, adoption of the small-scale Miners Code of Practice and provision of support services to the community miners.
Barely a year into the programme, however, the Research Department of the Ghana Mineworkers’ Union has been assessing the success of the programme and would put forward its observations at least before the end of the year ostensibly to inform policy reform and to reposition the initiative to achieve its intended outcomes. A preliminary assessment of the programme however with a focus on the decent work indicators, i.e., employment creation, social protection, training, health, safety, working conditions, child labour, job security, presents quite a troubling picture as these miners, some of whom are children, work without any proper PPEs, no structured pensions, and work under very bizarre working conditions. Again, even though these community miners are expected under the programme to be covered by some level of insurance, a form of social protection cover, it doesn’t appear to be the case on the ground. Brother Chairperson, these, unfortunately, are characteristics of illegal miners and the galamsey trade.
Brother Chairperson, even more, worrying since the introduction of CMP is the indiscriminate appropriation of lands, including portions of legally acquired concessions belonging to some individuals and large scale companies, in and around mining communities by illegal miners under the guise of CMP; a situation that is unacceptable and ought to be brought under check without any further delay.
As a trade union with over 75 years of advocating for mine workers and partnering the mining industry of Ghana, largely the formal sector, to create and maintain decent and sustainable jobs, the Ghana Mineworkers’ Union is happy to be associated with Government’s Community Mining Programme targeted at the small scale mining sector which is expected to create jobs and bolster the domestic economies of these mining communities and Ghana as a whole. Like the large scale mining sector, the CMP and by extension the activities of the small scale mining sector is in line with the mission of the Ghana Mineworkers’ Union and we shall be outlining an elaborate plan of action next year targeted at ensuring that the small scale mining sector is not only properly positioned for growth given its potential to our economy, but that the jobs created in the sector are decent and sustainable in line with the ILO decent work agenda.
To this end, let me use this opportunity to call on the Government to tighten restrictions and ensure strict compliance with section 82 to 99 of the Mining and Mineral Act, Act 703, with particular emphasis on section 90(3) whilst a multi-stakeholder conversation or dialogue is convened to discuss and review the programme in the best interest of all the actors.
In bringing my address to an end, let me say that one key recent policy development that has engaged the majority and minority in Parliament is the controversial Agyapa Mineral Royalty Limited Agreement with the Government of Ghana which saw the Minority staged a walkout on August 14, 2020. Even though walkout is not an uncommon feature of our Parliament and Parliamentarians, the matter in question is a key policy matter that must engage us and all Ghanaians. Unlike most of our politicians who scarcely consult stakeholders on key public policy decisions, I expect NEC in session to seriously discuss the matter and consult widely across divides as we prepare to add to the public discourse on the matter in the coming days.
Let me also add my voice to the growing call of concern over our country’s heating political temperature arising from the use of intemperate language in the political discourse and pockets of political violence cropping up in parts of the country even before active campaign season commences. With 2020 being an election year, political activities will certainly heighten but not to proportions likely to jeopardize the fragile peace and progress we have made over the years. In this regard, I like to call on all political parties especially the two leading ones (NPP and NDC) and their supporters to be circumspect in their dealings as they go about their activities. I will also call on all Ghanaians not only to name and shame architects of political violence and divisiveness but vote massively against them because violence does not deserve anybody’s vote.
Finally, let me remind us all that the world and Ghana, in particular, are not out of the woods yet in the Covid-19 fight and therefore I want to conclude by calling on our members and by extension the good people of Ghana to remain vigilant and continue to adhere strictly to the Covid-19 preventive etiquettes since that is the surest way out until a vaccine arrives.