The year 2020 will go down in the annals of history as being very bleak for labour globally and Ghana is no exception. The beginning of the year gave vivid indication of the economy on sound footing with employers’ budget appraisals in right direction.
Then, all of the sudden the deadly Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic emerged and the entire economy came to a halt with bleak prospects, a fact that is well acknowledged by Solomon Kotei, General Secretary of the Industrial and Commercial Workers (ICU).
To address the problem, government quickly instituted austerity lockdown measures to avert exponential spreading of the virus on the citizenry. The first group of people who suffered heavily under Covid-19 restrictions were those workers in the hospitality industry i.e. hotels, restaurants, cafes, entertainment spots and workers at the airports estimated at 540,000.
The labour unions stepped in to engage the leadership of some of these entities to see how best to rescue their workers as productivity has stalled. The issue was very well understood by the employers who decided to pay 50 percent salary to their workers. The payment continued for six months before the restrictions started easing.
One of the restrictions that affected productivity was social distancing where workers in some institutions and even factory workers have to be distant from one another and office staff reduced to the minimum and on shift basis where possible. Others were asked to operate from their homes via internet.
The ICU General Secretary said the next sector which suffered under the pandemic was the manufacturing sector. With the closure of airports and borders, raw materials and export finished products came to a halt and the consequences were visible.
The 140 rural banks suffered considerably as deposits from clients were not forth coming and the conventional banks also had a difficult time as businesses dropped and had to re-arrange terms of loan payment with their clients. The inter-banks transaction also had difficulty. All his while, the civil and public sector workers were paid their salaries fully.
Some employers in the private sector considering the huge losses they made during the period decided to lay off huge chunk of their workers but the unions resisted and had to sign Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with them to ensure job security with their workers. Private schools also suffered but government intervened with measures and provided free water and electricity to alleviate their suffering for 3 consecutive months. Mr. Kotei said during the period, ICU was not able to engage employers on Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) for their employees and some workers came to ICU on their own volition to apply for membership with ICU based on its prudent administration.
The beverage companies which hitherto were not producing alcohol based sanitizers had opportunity to produce a variety of these products for the public to boost their revenue. ICU during the pandemic could not undertake its programs and had to resort to zoom communication which could not materialize due to lack of IT facilities by many of his members. Among the numerous projects being undertaken by the ICU, is the multi-purpose 10-storey complex in Tema with architectural drawing completed, sod cutting will take place early next year.
The ICU General Secretary concluded that the year 2020 has not being rosy as perceived and cautions its huge members to continue to observe and respect the Covid-19 protocols as the virus is still in the system.