Govt saves textiles company but workers don't feel saved

Govt saves textiles company but workers don't feel saved
Source: Ghana|myjoyonline.com|edwin.appiah@myjoyonline.com
Date: 23-11-2018 Time: 09:11:31:pm

News feature

Government says it has saved the Akosombo Textiles company from near collapse, but a leader of textiles workers say they don’t feel saved.

The Akosombo Textiles factory has become a fresh litmus test of the current state and coming fate of an industry that once employed about the same numbers in the more glamorous banking industry.

That’s 25,000 workers. But this was in 1977. 

In 2005, the industry, according to the Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research had 3,000 workers.

A massive load shedding of workers which mirrors the massive influx of cheap imports, smuggled goods and shortage of raw materials that have become the bane of the industry.

But enter the Akufo-Addo government whose Trade minister Alan Kyerematen has declared, the president has personally intervened to save Akosombo Textiles factory.

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“The management of ATL had already decided that enough is enough…that it was time to say goodbye. It took the courage of His Excellency, the president, to decide that ATL will continue to exist”

He said during the President’s visit to the Eastern region where ATL is located. It was a declaration that was met with rapturous applause from a crowd whose make-up is being contested.

The eagerness of prolonged applause, the quick praise of the minister makes them sound rented, suggested Abraham Koomson who began working textiles in 1971 and is now the General Secretary of the Textile, Garment and Leather Employees' Union.

Photo: Trade minister Alan Kyerematen addressing the crowd

The Trade minister said the government has rolled out a six policy measures for the industry. Among them are tax stamps to identify tax compliant manufacturers with genuine wax prints.

Government has also designated Tema port in the Greater Accra region as the single port for bringing in textiles to check rampant smuggling. 
The minister said in 2016, despite a market flooded with 80m yards of textile prints, only one container of textiles was cleared through the Tema Port. 

And then there is also going to be a government stimulus largely for the four large manufacturing companies – Akosombo Textiles Limited, Ghana Textile Print (GTP), Ghana Textiles Manufacturing Company (GTMC), and Printex.

More applause followed in the Eastern region but inside the Greater Accra region and on the Joy FM telephone line, Abraham Koomson sighed and chuckled.

“Hm. I am scared of the politics they are bringing into this matter...the challenges facing the industry is not about political talk”, he told host of Top Story on Joy FM Gifty Andoh Appiah.

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Photo: Abraham Koomson

He called the minister’s policy prescriptions a misdiagnosis. 

“Tax stamp if it is for revenue generation okay if they think that it will help them to get money, that’s okay. But it will not address the problem of counterfeiting and pirating”.

“We have told them but they won’t take it”, he got emotional at what he saw as a stubborn government.

Mr. Koomson explained some 15 years ago, stakeholders in textiles industry and revenue agencies introduced tax stickers for printed fabrics. There was also a plan to restrict importation to specific entry points and seizure of pirated goods.

“This was in 2003 ooo under NPP (President Kufuor)”, he said and declared all these measures including the introduction of tax stickers didn’t work.

The Trade minister then was the Trade minister now – Alan Kyerematen.

For Abraham Koomson, the solution is routing out the illegal activities of smugglers whose cheap prints is hurting local industries.

Government he said has shunned this measure for what Mr. Koomson explained as a fear of causing fear and panic in markets which could set off demonstrations to make government unpopular.

He was beside himself at this excuse. “Look at this, just look at this”

“Ah what fear and panic? The people are engaged in illegal activities destroying the local industries”

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Photo: Pirated textiles seized

The Ghana’s Revenue Agencies Governing Board (RAGB) in 2010 stated that the country is losing about $15,843,727 in annual projected revenues (which was 0.14% of GDP) to the smuggling of textiles.   

The NPP government in a year has spent more than $500 million to fund free Senior High School education. $15m in lost textiles revenue could bankroll the expensive government policy for centuries all things being equal.

But smuggling remains rampant as pirates play catch-me-if-you-can with the government.

The trade unionist Abraham Koomson said the taskforce constituted in August 2010 did “a lot to help” but their work was discontinued and the committee reconstituted into a 17-member body.

But representatives from the four textiles companies boycotted the inauguration of this committee in October 2017. Mr. Koomson has said, that committee is stillborn and toothless.

This is because they have been asked to focus on piracy at the Eastern border. They are not allowed to comb market centers “because there are big toes that will be stepped on”, he said.

Abraham Koomson said the textile companies need regular supply of raw materials. ATL, he said, had some 50 bales of raw materials from Nigeria but within days it gets finished.

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“The workers will go back home and sleep and expect to be paid” he said. Government’s promised stimulus package could address the problem of supply of raw materials.

He called the cheers around the Trade minister’s speech “concert” and lamented the compounding problem of politicisation of an industry begging for revival.

“The blame game [among the parties] is annoying. To me it is annoying”, he said. 

The trade unionist would not comment on government’s claim of a revived ATL but offered to pay the transport fare for the journalist to go visit the factory for first-hand information.

Ghana has a National Friday Wear, a policy to encourage Ghanaian workers to wear textiles on the last day of the working week.

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The policy introduced by former President John Kufuor in 2004 created a huge demand and an unofficial fashion competition at work places.

Clothing is what on face value, passes an individual as fit for civilised society. But Ghanaian manufacturing companies which should produce what civilised society needs are dying.

The society of textile lovers is not naked or dying – thanks in part to unfair trade and smuggling