Hundreds of workers in the cocoa sector yesterday staged a massive demonstration to demand investigations into allegations of poor industrial relations and corruption levelled against Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), Dr Stephen Opuni.
The workers claimed Dr Opuni had engaged in several corrupt acts and mismanaged the affairs of COCOBOD, alleging that the CEO and other top management members had colluded to siphon cocoa.
The aggrieved workers said those who sought to encourage him to do the right thing had been unfairly transferred to other places, among others.
The irate workers, led by executives of the Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union (ICU) and the General Agricultural Workers’ Union (GAWU) of the TUC, thronged the Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations in Accra where they presented a strongly-worded petition to the President through the Deputy Minister, Mohammed Baba Jamal.
They warned that if President John Mahama failed to address their concerns this time around, they would stage a nationwide strike which would cripple the cocoa industry which is the backbone of the country’s economy.
Many of the charged workers held several placards, some of which read, “Mr President, Sack Opuni;” “Opuni destroying Cocobod,” “Dr Opuni is a disaster,” “Dr Opuni, stop indiscriminate transfers,” and “Is Opuni above the law?”
ICU General Secretary Solomon Kotei, who read the petition, accused Dr Opuni of acting with impunity.
“Dr Opuni has on three occasions refused to respect the sector minister’s invitation at the behest of the President for solutions to the issues affecting the cocoa sector and yet he has been let off the hook,” he said.
“Does that mean Dr Opuni is not subject to any authority in the country, not even the presidency?” Solomon Kotei quizzed, adding, “Unless a presidential edict is issued against him sooner than later, he would bring the cocoa industry to its knees.”
He also said that the issue of state-owned WAMCO, whose workers have been at home for the past 28 months due to the shutdown of the company, was lingering, adding that Dr Opuni had refused to follow the directive given him by the President to resolve the problem.
“This was followed up with a request by the Chief of Staff to Dr Opuni to meet with the ICU and submit a report but Dr Opuni failed to attend the meeting,” he noted.
Mr Kotei said that Dr Opuni had refused to negotiate with ICU/GAWU for 2016 wage re-opener, saying, “Instead of dealing with us, he rather used a retiree in the person of Harrison Idris Hassan to call a staff durbar to announce a non-negotiated 20% salary increase as wage re-opener; and when local union elections were due and ICU/GAWU wrote for permission to conduct the elections, the management of COCOBOD never responded.
“Dr Opuni and his management have given a contract to a former employee, Idris Hassan, who is the past Chairman of COCOBOD Head Office Local Union and Supreme Consultative Council of the cocoa industry, and are determined to destroy the long-standing union in the sector.”
Mr Kotei further accused Dr Opuni of victimising those who had questioned the credibility of the in-house union.
“They sometimes transfer people from unit to unit and from one region to another. Some, within one month, are transferred twice for no apparent reason,” he revealed.
He said they were also waiting for an action to be taken on allegations of dubious deals at COCOBOD that were causing huge financial losses to the state.
Baba Jamal, who received the petition, commended the workers for using legal means to get their grievances addressed, adding, “I can assure you that the matter is going to get all the attention as soon as possible. We are going to engage COCOBOD to resolve this matter amicably.”
Some workers, however, believe there will be no meaningful resolution because numerous pledges were not fulfilled in the past.