Ghanaian workers have held street demonstrations against their government for increasing utility tariffs and fuel prices while refusing to increase salaries. Isaac Kaledzi reports from Accra.
Hundreds of workers poured onto the streets of Ghana's capital Accra Wednesday to protest recent hikes in utility tariffs and petroleum prices. There have been a 59 and 67 percent hikes in water and electricity respectively coupled with the recent 27 percent increase fuel prices.
Labor unions intend to stage a strike on Thursday and Friday to further compel government to reduce the tariffs. Officials have appealed to the workers not to escalate their demonstrations but the unions insist they will only stop protesting when government gives in to their demands.
The secretary general of the Trades Union Congress of Ghana, Kofi Asamoah, led the nationwide demonstration. Addressing the demonstrators, he defended the actions of the workers insisting that unless prices are reduced, their agitations will escalate.
"Organized labor has called for a reduction in the utility tariffs, and the withdrawal of the Energy Sector Levy Act 899. The working group set up to work out on an amicable solution has failed to produce satisfactory results," he said.
"We are aware of the stick the IMF is holding over the government following the extended credit facility. IMF policies have never delivered prosperity to any country anywhere in the world," he added.
Employment and Labour Relations Minister Haruna Iddrissu said the demands of the workers are difficult to meet. He signaled how unhappy government is about the union's decision to continue protesting despite efforts to resolve their concerns.
"Organized labor has asked government to withdraw the energy sector levy and review tariffs down to 50 percent. That is where we are in the course of the negotiations," he said.
"And that is what displeases me personally about their intended declared action to proceed on a demonstration and strike action while negotiations are ongoing. It's like negotiating with a gun to your head," he added.
The rising costs of essential goods are stretching the budgets of many Ghanaians
Leaders of the unions will resume negotiations with the government this week but insist on withdrawing their services across the country on Thursday and Friday. The demonstrators say their intended actions are justified as they decry the hardship the tariff hikes have had on workers.
From the street
"The problem is, we are not against the government, but the hardship on the ground is too much," said Lawrence Ackon, a protestor.
"We want him [President John Dramani Mahama] to listen. We are suffering as Ghanaians. We can't pay our electricity bills. Now a fuel increment too is another burden on our neck. We just can't cope in the system," said Jane Bashan, another protestor.
The street protests ahead of an intended strike action over the next two days are likely to slow productivity for an economy that is already struggling. The reaction from government by the end of this week will signal if these actions will further escalate or be halted. Labor experts have however asked government to give in to the workers to restore calm to the country.