As workers worldwide marked Labor Day on May 1st, Ghanaian workers repeated their call for a hefty pay rise. President Mahama says this would damage the country's fragile economy.
Ghanaian workers thronged Black Star Square in the capital Accra to mark this year's Labor Day. Their demands are simple: improved working conditions and more money. Negotiations have been going on since April but the workforce was shocked to learn from President John Mahama that the talks have hit a deadlock.
It is expected that when the negotiations are concluded, a minimum daily wage of the equivalent of 2 euros ($2.77) will be agreed upon. This may not satisfy the workers who are demanding more. But President Mahama says a larger increase would have a negative effect on the country's budget.
"I have the utmost respect for the rights of our gallant workers to negotiate a living wage, but as president I have an obligation to the rest of our population to ensure that the economy of this country is protected," Mahama said in an address to the crowd, adding that he had to ensure that enough resources were left over to enable the other 24.4 million non- public sector workers to have access to quality health care, education and clean drinking water.
Workers reject call for increased productivity
The president wants public sector workers to increase their productivity in return for higher salaries. Workers in Accra told DW such calls are misplaced. They argue that productivity is already high and say they won't budge from their demands.
"I don't know why they can't increase our salaries, because we are always doing our best," said Mary Dartey. "Our pay is low, we are pleading to the government, the increase in our water and electricity bills is too high," complained Salifuh Bansah.
Negotiations are due to resume on Friday (02.05.2014) in a fresh attempt to reach an agreement on a new minimum wage. A former finance minister of Ghana, Dr Akoto Osei, says the government needs to take difficult decisions to improve economic conditions in the country. But he warned against freezing workers' salaries. He had this advice for the government. "This is the time you might be able to get people to sacrifice, but you must put the cards on the table. No increase in workers' salary is not going to go anywhere."
Criticism of EPA
The leaders of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in Ghana had wanted to use the May Day celebrations to issue an ultimatum if salaries are not increased. However, their members failed to demonstrate because TUC Secretary General Kofi Asamoah said he was hopeful that the next round of discussions would be fruitful. Asamoah warned the government against signing the Economic Partnership Agreement between European Union and African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries in its current form. He said the country's trade deficit had continued to worsen and that Ghana would not benefit from the agreement.
Only four out of 47 eligible African countries have so far ratified the interim EPA which was introduced in 2007. Ghana has initialled but not yet signed the agreement.