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Labor Unrest Marks May Day in Ghana

May Day, also known as International Workers Day, is being celebrated in Ghana with street processions and workers' rallies throughout the country. For VOA, Efam Dovi reports from Ghana's capital, Accra that this year's celebration is taking place at a time when the West African nation's labor front remains volatile.

In 2003, Ghana had a new labor law that many thought would help address frequent workers' complaints. But four years later, the country's workers, especially those in the public sector, say the government has been unable to meet their demand for better working conditions.

The result is protests and consistent threats of strikes, the latest by health workers - excluding doctors. The group has declared a nationwide indefinite strike, despite government threats to withhold the workers' salaries.

Health workers' group leader Raymond Tetteh says the government has failed to address employees' concerns after several months of negotiations.

"It has taken us 15 months, I think we had enough, we exercised patience,” he said. "It will be difficult for me to say that they [health workers] should return immediately to work, while I have nothing or the leadership has nothing to present to them."

Also on Monday, officials of Ghana's premier teaching hospital, Korlebu Teaching Hospital in Accra, dismissed all 90 junior house doctors for embarking on a four-day strike. Other recent labor actions include a two-day protest last week by central bank employees demanding better working conditions.

The deputy head of the Ghana Trade Unions Congress, Kofi Asamoah, blames the government, the country's biggest employer, for the labor instability.

"Yes there have been a lot of strikes, particularly within the public sector and it has to do with income disparities, particularly where government went on its own way to increase the salaries of health sector workers without recourse to procedures and also without recourse to the fact that there is a salary structure for all public sector employees," he noted. "That anomaly has really created a lot of problems."

Asamoah also says most of the problems in the public sector are due to government's inability to properly handle industrial-relation issues. He says the government has been fumbling even more than other employers.

"Government machineries do not have well-qualified human resources to deal with human relations," he added. "Because there have been situations where, by the dictates of the law, workers would have to formally inform government, as their employer, on what to do, and the government machinery sometimes treats those requests with contempt. You realize that letters are written, replies do not even come as expected. You can agree with me that when such situations erupt, definitely there will be labor unrest."

Thousands of placard carrying workers took part in processions through the principal streets of Accra and a workers' rally at the country's independence square to mark the day.