Mr. Stephen Ashitey Adjei, the leader of the over 3,000 ex-workers of the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA) who were retrenched without severance benefits in 2002, has crowned the late Prof. John Evans Atta Mills as the best President that Ghana has had in the whole of the Fourth Republic.
On the occasion of the commemoration of five years into the passing of the late President, Mr. Ashitey Adjei has expressed fond memories, recalling how the law Professor was the only President, who was people-centred enough to seek justice for the ex-workers.
“Of all the Presidents that we have had, Professor Mills is the only one who truly defended human rights and I can tell you that we the GPHA ex workers have our own experience with him,” Mr. Ashitey Adjei, popularly called Moshake, said in an interview with journalists at the graveside of the Late President Mills in Accra on Monday, this week.
He said that the contentious retrenchment at the GPHA had been carried out under the erstwhile Kufuor government and that same government had refused to ensure that the ex-workers are paid what is due them.
“However, when Professor Mills became President, he did not only listen to us, but actually issued a fiat for us to be paid.”
Moshake said, but for the untimely demise of the late President Mills in July 2012, the ex-workers would have been paid by now.
15 years after the retrenchment, payment of the ex-workers’ severance benefits is still pending, even though Parliamentarians and ex-Presidents have long been paid all entitlements due them, including even ex gratia for former ministers and other Article 71 office holders. Moshake said, under Professor Mills, such a travesty would never have festered on.
“Professor Mills was so caring, so accommodating…I remember the open arms with which he granted us audience about our issue, even though President Kufuor had not even cared a hoot about us, and the dispatch with which he ordered an investigation into the issue and eventually issued a fiat for us to be paid,” he said, adding that President Mills felt personal pain upon hearing about the treatment that the GPHA had meted out to the ex- workers.
“Unfortunately, just a few days after issuing the fiat, he died. We were very hopeful that his successor, President Mahama, who claimed to be a mentee of President Mills, would go ahead and ensure that we are paid, but he never did.”
“President Mahama was the total opposite to President Mills – he was not even moved by the fact that some of my colleagues had died out of melancholy, some had gone mad and some were bedridden because of lack of money to go to the hospital.
“President Mahama refused to pay us as President Mills had instructed,” Moshake lamented.
The story about the GPHA ex-workers who were retrenched in 2002 is one that stirs a lot of anger.
In March 2002, Management of the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA) circulated a decree crafted as, “Voluntary Retirement Exercise” for all category of workers who wished to retire early.
The decree had been informed by a World Bank prescription to some ports across the world to undertake the voluntary retirement exercise in line with needed diversification. Consequently, the over 3,000 ex-workers in both Tema and Takoradi lost their jobs.
Unfortunately, after receiving their entitlements, the workers realized that Management had shortchanged them badly. Some of the ex-workers who have worked for many years received between GH¢ 66.60p and GH¢ 1000.00, it has since been rumoured that some big men at the GPHA pocketed the ex- workers’ money.
The ridiculous severance package paid them became even more insulting to them when they realized that other workers similarly affected by the retrenchment in Nigeria, Ivory Coast and other sister countries had been paid a minimum of 25,000 U.S dollars.
After the workers had written a protest to Management and only getting an overweening reply that they could please themselves if they wished, the workers went to parliament, the National Labour Commission, as well as the law court.
In the heat of battle with management, Stephen Ashitey Adjei had been harassed, beaten and then arrested and thrown into prison custody, after an alleged attempt to bribe him to keep quiet and abandon the rest of his colleagues was resisted by him.
in July 2012, while the case was in court, Moshake wrote a petition to President Mills, who promptly ordered an investigation and later issued a fiat to the Ministry of Transport to solve the ex- workers’ grievance with immediacy.
Unfortunately, President Mills died on the 24th of July, 2012 and that created room for the case to be messed up in court by the powers that be until incessant procedural mistakes led to the Supreme Court dismissing the case in 2013.
But before the dismissal, Chief Justice Theodora Georgina Wood had instructed the GPHA to dialogue with the ex-workers and come to an amicable settlement.
The GPHA refused to dialogue. In the end, only five ex-workers, out of over 3,000, were paid their severance benefits.
The ex-workers’ leader, Stephen Ashitey Adjei, petitioned President Mahama several times, all to no avail.
“President Mahama really shocked us, he did not even reply a single letter that we had written to him. His behavior really made us miss President Mills a lot,” Moshake said.
He says they have picked up the issue with President Akufo-Addo and are hopeful that, “Nana will not behave like Mahama, this world that we are in, if you do good, you do for yourself, and if you do bad, you do for yourself because God will someday examine our lives,” Moshake said.