….Debunk Negative Claims By ICU, GAWU
Workers of the Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), have jumped to the defense of their Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Dr. Stephen Kwabena Opuni, following accusations by two labour unions that, they (the workers) are being asked to leave their parent unions and force to join a new one.
They have served notice that, they would not barge on their quest to form a new union for the welfare of their members as plans are far advanced to register the new body, Cocoa Industry Workers Union (CIWU) either by close of day today or early next week.
The two labour unions, General Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU) and the Industrial and Commercial Union (ICU) few days ago, organized a press conference, accusing leaders of the various groups within the cocoa sector on their decision to break away, after various attempts to get them not to break away failed.
Many have said the press conference was to blackmail COCOBOD. The board with its large number of workers paying levies to the GAWU and other workers’ organizations, is a goldmine for many unions. Indeed, many have questioned the benefits for joining such unions whose main priority is only for Public Relations gimmicks.
At a press conference to react to the numerous accusation leveled against leadership of Cocobod workers and Dr. Opuni, chairman of Supreme Council, Alhaji Idris Hassan, said the two unions cannot “force themselves” on them and that their decision cannot be curtailed by anyone.
He said “we have times and seasons and the way I see it, is finito” implying he and his colleagues were not rejoining GAWU and ICU.
Workers from the six groups within the sector, drawn from the regions were present at the press conference to support their leaders, yesterday.
“There have been serious improvements in the welfare of workers of the cocoa industry sector. We the workers are the ones to rise up against Opuni for others to assist us remove him. “Opuni has not done anything to warrant change. The workers are getting their due, government is getting it due and cocoa farmers are getting theirs so why must we rise against him”?
Even before the new union is registered, Alhaji Hassan, said over 3, 000 workers from the various divisions, including the Cocoa Research Institute (CRI) and senior staff members, have already filled the forms to join the union after given out the forms for only eight days.
He said, the new union, unlike GAWU and ICU, would focus primarily on the welfare of members and those workers, who fall under temporal, contract and casual categories, who presently are not allowed to join the two unions are going to be accepted into this new union and they are going to benefit from it.
As for the union, “it is a foregone conclusion” we are going to form it, he assured. He continued “I tell you, COCOBOD workers are satisfied as far as their welfare is concerned; the workers are fully behind us”.
He said, their decision to break away, “has nothing to do with the Chief Executive. Since Opuni came, our salary has been enhanced” Dr. Opuni came in when COCOBOD was going to the dogs, yes quote me. Why, they even have to put embargo on our allowances, promotions, call it what and I tell you there was going to be a strike action at COCOBOD, yes this is what he came to inherit”.
He continued “we did not expect him to be able to go through this process smoothly but he assured as and within three months, he lifted the embargo”.
Around 1985, Alhaji Hassan said, salaries of workers of COCOBOD were slashed by 25 percent “so is that smooth negotiations”, he questioned the two unions.
He said, in the past, salary negotiations last for over three months, but since Dr. Opuni was appointed in 2013, their discussion with him are very smooth and it takes not more than 30 minutes.
He said, the two unions, are against their breakaway, because they are going to lose members and most importantly money. During the ICU and GAWU press conference, the leadership of the two groups warned they would ensure that Dr. Opuni is changed.
Alahji saw this comment as very political, adding that labour unions, do not dabble in politics and rebuked them to desist from it saying, “I hate political prostitutes. It is said that workers should and must support governments that are worker-friendly and must resist governments that are not worker-friendly. And so how can you remove Opuni?”
Salaries, he added, have not only been doubled, but in some cases, tripled and this has helped some workers to purchase or build their own houses.
He outlined three reasons why they have decided to breakaway, as a painful attempt by ICU and GAWU to negotiate downwards their demand to have 30 percent salary increment during former CEO, Tony Fofie’s tenure, decision to negotiate without allowance, and lastly the move to re-organize and privatize Cocoa Marketing Company (CMC) in 2012 “when the sector is still the backbone of the economy”.
He pledged, “We are fully behind Opuni”.
The workers leader, revealed that in the past, government used to interfere in the affairs of the sector, but since Dr. Opuni took over, the practiced has stopped.
He mentioned some initiatives introduced by the current CEO and government such as the free fertilizer distribution, free seedlings, mass cocoa spraying exercise, construction of cocoa roads, and the building of flats for workers at Tema and Takoradi, amongst others.
On salary of Dr. Opuni which Solomon Quartey the ICU boss, had claimed has been increased by the CEO himself, Alhaji Hassan, who was once a vice chairman of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) suggested the information was erroneous as the CEO’s salary, is rather determined by the Finance Ministry, and this is done having in mind the viability of that enterprise.