While many are commending the president for calling on workers to up their game during his May Day speech, I will like to look at the issue differently.
Public Sector Workers (PSWs) operate within a system, so while it may be a good sound bite for the president to call them lazy, their non-performance or low level of productivity is symptomatic of the dysfunctional system we operate within. For PSWs to function efficiently, state actors must address a number of factors – Public Transport System, Housing/Rent, Logistics or tools at the work place, Pension, etc.
Many a Ghanaian worker who live and worker in the capital understand how terrible the transportation situation is – it is a headache that one must endure every morning and evening. All workers depend on road, meanwhile public transport is virtually non-existent, and where it exists, it is inefficient. Workers who commute from areas like Spintex, Madina, Ashale Botwe, Aburi, Adenta, Kasoa, Gbawe, Tema, etc to work in the centre of the city consistently endure a snail paced vehicular traffic; most of them leave home very early yet end up at work late hence they start the working day already frustrated and stressed. After 3pm, every worker’s focus shifts from his or her duties to that tortuous journey back home. To escape the tiring vehicular traffic, most workers either leave work early or stay till late. Those who have the misfortune of going through the vehicular traffic usually get home late and tired; unfortunately, once they get home, they must immediately start thinking about the next day’s journey to work – it is a painful and health threatening cycle.
For things to improve as the president directed, there must be a complete overhaul of our public transport system. Apart from ensuring an improved, working, and efficient road transport system, we must begin to explore alternatives to road, specifically, rail. I have not travelled much but I have seen 2 or 3 three European capitals, and using Lisbon as an example, one can travel the entire stretch of the city from Lisbon International Airport to the Port of Lisbon in less than 45 minutes using the underground train. Imagine having underground rail lines from Tema to Kasoa; Aburi to Accra; Kasoa to the Spintex, with intersections at various points; imagine just how the Ghanaian worker will be eased.
Housing and Rental is another big headache for the Ghanaian worker. For most part or the entirety of the Public Sector Worker’s life, he or she is renting; even though we have a rent act which is supposed to regulate the duration per which a rent advance can be charged by any landlord, maximum six months, landlords charge in excess, sometimes demanding up to three years rent advance due to demand outstripping supply. Workers are subjected to all forms of abuses and exploitations by profit driven landlords. Any PSW who leaves in a rented accommodation is consistently worried about where his next rent will come from, assuming, the landlord is even willing to renew the rent agreement. If the landlord serves an eviction notice, searching for new place to move into in Accra or any of the other Regional capitals is a nightmare.
For those who try to build their own houses, they literally scrap their accounts dry at the end of the month to keep the project going – for those in this category, hand to mouth is the norm – other dreams or ambitions are differed and allowed to fester.
Government must take a second look at the rent act and ensure strict implementation and adherence, while urgent steps are taken to put up low cost houses for the benefit of low income workers. The mortgage regime must be streamlined to afford workers the opportunity acquire their own houses against their future earnings – at the moment, mortgages are too expensive in this country.
No worker can be productive if the tools needed to deliver on the job are non-existent. I have worked in the private sector all my working life teaching in some of the best international schools in the country; in all these years, I have never used my personal money to buy a marker, duster, pen, pencil, exercise/notebook, or any other tool required for my job. In fact, when I get to work, there is internet connectivity throughout the day, and when the lights are out, the standby power plant kicks in seamlessly hence there is little or no interruption in delivery at all. At the end of the academic year, I need not worry my head over what textbooks my students will use, I simply send my list to the appropriate officer and they are ordered; I need not think about reprographics – with all these, I have no excuse for failure or non-performance. Compare the picture I have just painted to what pertains in the public sector and you will see the debilitating contrast. In most public sector institutions, when there is a power outage, work must come to a standstill because of the non-availability of standby plants – the tragic truth is that they simply lack the basic tools to work with.
If the president expects public sector workers and institutions to be efficient and deliver at full capacity, he must ensure that they are well resourced and tooled.
Every worker must inevitably go on pension. Ideally, a worker should look forward to his pension with optimism, hope, and excitement because that is the time one finally gets to rest and enjoy some of the benefits or luxurious of life which were previously forgone due the pressures of work. Ironically, the situation for the Ghanaian public sector worker is entirely different. For the average Ghanaian worker, pension is more of a death warrant or a pass to misery than rest. Most public sector workers from age 50 begin to think more about their pension and the life beyond than work; they are either thinking about how to complete that long overdue house, or how they can continue to cater for the children’s fees and other needs – it becomes a period of great tribulation or agony for even those in top management positions whose conditions may be better – it becomes a question of productivity versus survival. When such a situation arises, the first rule of nature, the preservation of the self, sets in and productivity suffers.
The new pension’s regime is a good start, but SSNIT in particular, must be tasked to manage and invest workers’ contributions prudently to ensure better returns – workers deserve better pensions.
I have had my own challenges in my interface with public sector workers and institutions, and I am not suggesting for a minute that their output is above board, but I also find it rather too simplistic and unfair for anybody to suggest that they are lazy and unproductive. As we call on them to be productive and professional in the discharge of their duties, let us remember that it takes two to tango – the employer too, government, must also discharge its obligations are far as the above factors and others are concerned.
Boniface A. Sutinga
(CPAG and TPA)