..As COCOBOD Workers Extol Opuni On May Day
By Gifty Arthur
After many attempts by the leadership of two labour unions, the General Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU), and the Industrial and Commercial Union (ICU) to get workers of Ghana Cocoa Board (COCBOD) to rescind their threat to break away from them, the two resorted to communist inferior tactic to get the workers back on their side during this year’s May Day celebration.
Sadly, the tactic which was calculated to unjustly draw President John Mahama into a purely labour issue by taking actions against the management of the COCOBOD, also suffered a stillbirth with the President, openly declaring his government was not going to meddle in worker-union matters.
ICU and GAWU, have according to The Herald’s information taken the Supreme Consultative Council of COCOBOD, to the Accra Human Right Court, the Employment and Labour Relations Ministry, and to the Flagstaff House, but in all these, the Council, stated it position clearly on why they are breaking away to form an in-house union for the welfare of it members.
In Wa, COCOBOD, has no office, yet placards ostensibly sponsored by ICU and GAWU, popped up against the management.
Amazingly, ICU, broke away from the Trade Union Congress (TUC) some 20 years ago, therefore, had shown the way to all those with genuine concerns to also leave the organization and set up their own workers’ union.
After their failures, the two unions, then accused the Chief Executive Officer of COCOBOD, Dr. Stephen Kwabena Opuni of corruption, and alleged that he has influenced staff of the Board to break away from the two unions.
But the workers countered the claims by denying any wrong-doing on the part of Dr. Opuni, who they insisted has distinguished himself very creditably, since his appointment in 2013 by President Mahama, after his excellent service at the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA).
The COCOBOD workers, accused the unions of failing to protect their interest, hence do not see the relevance of their continuous association with them.
Ahead of the May Day Celebration, the Chairman of the Council, Alhaji Idris Hassan, told the media in Accra last Thursday that they are set to register the in-house union, a voluntary association, revealing over 3,000 thousand workers, have so far registered not to be part of the GAWU and ICU.
Alhaji Hassan, argued that GAWU and ICU, are worried about their break away, not because they care about them, but because, they are going to lose membership and also huge levies paid to them.
The COCOBOD, with its large number of workers, generates over 70 percent to GAWU and other workers’ organizations, described as levies, making it a goldmine for the unions.
The decision to form the new union, has gathered momentum among the six groups within the cocoa sector, and Alhaji Hassan, a former vice chairman of TUC, insisted the two unions cannot “force themselves” on them, because the 1992 Constitution of Ghana, gives them the power to associate and disassociate.
During this year’s May Day celebration at Wa in the Upper West Region, the two unions, managed to get the attention of the President, John Dramani Mahama, to comment on the matter.
The president, while expressing displeasure about the on-going struggle for independence, charged the TUC to immediately resolve the agitations within the labour front to bring sanity.
“Recent disagreements on the labour front have created cause for concern for comrades and partners of organized labour. While government, cannot interfere in union affairs, as a social democrat and a comrade, I cannot help but express my agitation at the recent event unfolding that affect two of our greatest unions, the ICU and GAWU.”
He said, though government could not prevent the unions from breaking away, because “our national Constitution guarantees freedom of association,” President Mahama said, adding such situation, reduces the bargaining power of the unions.
“…On the basis of that in the recent past, many unions have splinted with breakaway forming their own new organizations. This right while inalienable in our constitution, must also be exercised with caution, less we weaken worker solidarity and end up with smaller ineffective workplace unions. It is my hope that the TUC, working with her other tripartite partners, can bring an amicable solution to this current dispute.”
He said, even though the constitution gives workers the right to break away from their mother unions, they should remember to do so with caution.
“This right well alienable in the constitution must be exercised with caution, less we weaken worker solidarity and end up with smaller ineffective workplace unions,” the president added.
Speaking to The Herald yesterday, Alhaji Hassan, said though they were not at the national parade, they have heard about the president’s counsel and so as a Council, “we are waiting to see what the TUC will do. Because as a Council, am talking to you as the chairman, if there is an issue, the
Council will have to meet and then discuss and a decision taken.
This is what we are hearing and then if there is an official [communication], it will mean that as a democratic institution, we will have to look at it and then respond. In all the regions, we were there, the national one took place in Wa that is where the president is alleged to have made that, because I have not heard the full version.
On advice by the president that though there is freedom of association enshrined in the Constitution, it must be exercise with caution, he said “if I understand what he means by that it is due process [and that] will be taken. We are looking at the TUC because the ICU itself broke away from the TUC, so we will wait for the TUC”, he said.
He confirmed information that at some of the parade grounds, attempts were made to prevent some COCOBOD workers, who showed banners and placards commending Dr. Opuni and the president for the massive interventions and improvement brought into the sector.
“I have also heard it that even in Sunyani, it is alleged they the ICU got some placards for them to use against the CEO and then myself and what have you. The workers saw it and had to go for them and seize it, as am talking to you now, the workers are granting interviews to some of the press houses.
In Takoradi, it is alleged that, they did the same thing, wanting COCOBOD workers to use it and they refused, so it was rather given to hair dressers, are hairdressers COCOBOD workers”, he laughed.