Talensi: Old Soldier Receives Slap, Several Beaten as Cardinal Workers, Employers Clash

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The old soldier, Capt. Timothy Gbandan, received a heavy slap in the face and an unspecified number of people got beaten when a long-anticipated clash finally erupted between workers and authorities of Cardinal Namdini Mining Limited on Wednesday, 13 March 2024, in Talensi, a district in Ghana’s Upper East region.

Retired Capt. Gbandan, who works as a security coordinator for the Chinese company, is yet to identify the worker who slapped him.

Sources say he has launched a serious hunt for the person and has vowed to stick to the search until he gets to the bottom of it.The morning clash, a result of an unresolved protest that began last year over what the workers describe as terrible working conditions, saw police officers race to the scene before soldiers joined them to contain a situation that could have turned bloody.

The protesting workers told Media Without Borders they were engaged in July, last year, by Honjoe Ventures, a Chinese-owned company and alleged shareholder of Cardinal Namdini Mining Limited, to construct a goldmine for the parent company in Talensi.

Smoking allowances paid Chinese higher than wages Ghanaians receive

According to the workers, the management of Honjoe Ventures pays Ghanaian skilled workers a daily wage of Gh¢80 and Gh¢10 for feeding per day.

Unskilled Ghanaian workers, they say, receive a wage of Gh¢70 per day, but their Chinese counterparts receive Gh¢950 each per day for the same labour and they collect a “cigarette smoking allowance” of Gh¢80 a day.

A worker, who is at the welding unit of the construction project, said the company’s yard was “worse than a slave camp” for the Ghanaian employees.

“Three people are forced to carry a heavy iron rod six people are supposed to carry. And when you are thirsty, they give you only hot water to drink in this hot weather.

“We work seven days a week. We have no off days and we rest for only one hour thirty minutes. If you complain, they sack you. These things are happening under Cardinal’s watch, we have complained and they are doing nothing about them,” he said.

“If you demand increment of salary, they will sack you. If you ask for PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), you are sacked. If you absent yourself for one day, they next day they will sack you.

“The Chinese are given Gh¢80 each every day just to buy cigarette and smoke while the company pays unskilled Ghanaians Gh¢70 as a wage per day and the wage for the skilled Ghanaians is Gh¢80,” another worker stated.

When the workers staged a protest last year, asking for better working conditions, the management reportedly promised to address their concerns in three months. But three months passed without any of the demands being met.

Those who approached the management with a reminder of the promise were threatened with dismissal from their jobs if they tried to jog the company’s memory again about the old concerns, according to the workers.

The following month, the company reportedly sacked some 25 workers. When the other workers asked the company why their colleagues were fired, they were told the decision was taken because “the workers are too many”.

But, to their shock, 25 new workers reported the following day from outside the region to replace the sacked ones.

The letter that precedes the fight

On Thursday, 29 February 2024, the workers penned a grievance letter in English to the Chinese management and one of them, named Christopher Goldaan, was chosen to deliver it. 

On Friday, 1 March 2024, a Chinese top official, to whom the workers generally refer as Site Boss, came to the site to supervise the ongoing construction.

Goldaan walked to him and, after greeting him, stretched a white sheet of paper, folded and clipped, to him. He said he had been asked by his fellow workers to deliver a letter to him.

Site Boss did not take it immediately. He only looked at it as Goldaan held it out. Then, he asked what it was about. In reply, Goldaan said he was unable to tell because he was only asked to deliver it. He took the letter and Goldaan walked away.

A few hours later, a suspicious and furious Site Boss sent for Goldaan. When he arrived, he asked him to name the writer of the letter. Goldaan responded, saying “all the workers of Honjoe” wrote it.

Confused, Site Boss asked him if all the workers held one pen together to a sheet of paper and wrote the letter. Goldaan said no, and explained that the workers held a meeting where they poured out their concerns and one person put their words on paper.

“And who wrote the concerns for them?” he questioned, looking probingly straight into Goldaan’s eyes.  

“I don’t know,” Goldaan insisted. “I didn’t even attend the meeting.”

Without saying anything further, Site Boss pronounced Goldaan sacked on the spot.

Demands and disagreement

Rather than showing any regret, Goldaan told Site Boss he would be happy to go home if his job would be sacrificed for his fellow Ghanaians to be treated as humans at the site.  

Before he left, Site Boss called the company’s interpreter to read the letter to him. After the interpreter read it to him in Chinese, he also asked him to tell him the writer’s name. The interpreter said the only name provided in the letter as the writer was Honjoe workers.

The mine is under construction.

Commenting on the contents of the letter, Site Boss told the interpreter in fury, while an unworried Goldaan stood there listening, that the company was not ready to meet any of the demands from the workers.

As stated in the letter, the workers wanted their daily wages increased from Gh¢80 to Gh¢200. They wanted the wages paid on time with the payments done through “instant cash, momo or bank transfer”.

They also asked that “all statutory holidays including our agreed Sunday rest or off-day are [double marked] per day per employee”. The workers raised a concern about their safety and health, demanding establishment of a certified First Aid department at the site, and asked for adequate compensation for any worker who suffered any form of casualty in the line of duty.

The other requests were payment of any allowances and bonuses due them for work done on rest days, holidays, weekends and overtime. They closed the letter by asking the company to address the concerns within 3 days.

A copy of the workers’ letter.

The comments made by Site Boss on the letter bugged Goldaan and gave him an opportunity to add another concern the workers probably had forgotten to include in the letter.

He told Site Boss that the company was also being unfair to the Ghanaian workers by paying them only Gh¢40 for overtime work done while it was paying the Chinese expatriates Gh¢320 for the same extra hours.

Site Boss got more infuriated and said Goldaan’s statement was enough indication that he was due for replacement. Then, he told him to get out of his sight.

But Goldaan’s dismissal was immediately met with strong protests from the other workers when they learnt of it upon his arrival from the assignment. They downed their tools at once in solidarity with him and threatened to go home with him if his sack was not rescinded.

Overwhelmed by the ensuing noise, Site Boss called Goldaan back. But he warned him that he would not get a second chance if he “challenged” his authority again. Goldaan stayed back and everybody got back to work, grumbling.

A protest at the gate

On Sunday, 3 March 2024, the workers gathered at the site to ask for their February wages and to hear what the management had got to say about their letter. 

But they were told the paymaster was not available. So, they went back home without the money they had worked for, and without any word on the letter.

The following day, two workers, Augustine Yindan and Adam Issah, were sacked. Their baffled colleagues said they learnt later that the two men were dismissed because the management heard them during the previous day’s gathering vow that they would not go back to work if their February wages were not paid.

Some of the agitated workers.

The wages owed the workers were paid on March 4. But, because the demands stated in the letter had not been met, the protests continued.

On the morning of Tuesday, 12 March 2024, the workers arrived from their homes but they refused to enter the yard to work. They gathered at a security checkpoint near the company’s main gate, declaring that they would not work until the company addressed the concerns contained in their letter.

The clamor drew some officials of Cardinal management to the scene. The workers threatened to stretch the protests to Bolgatanga, the region’s capital town, and take their grievances to the press nationwide. The management officials begged, assuring them that they would provide answers by Friday, 15 March 2024. They also entreated the workers to enter the yard and work.

Cardinal’s yard is 19.54 sq.km. large.

But, unconvinced, the workers declined to go in. As the day advanced towards noon, they became thirsty and sent a message to the management for water.

According to them, the management did not offer them the requested water because they refused to work, and did not release the staff bus to convey them back home from the site, which is about 78 kilometres away from where most of the workers live, until about 5:00 p.m.

More dismissals trigger violent clash

When the workers reported to work the following day, the management dismissed five people. The sacked workers included three men and two women. The action fuelled the existing fury, prompting some of the Ghanaian workers to down their tools immediately and going round with a call on their colleagues at the site to stop work.  

As the message was going round and tension was building up, a Chinese official, named Jacob, openly suggested that one of the sacked workers, a scaffold builder called Victor Gumah, be called back but should be downgraded to a labourer at a different unit and paid a lower wage.

He had barely finished talking when some of the Ghanaian workers, angered by what he said, surrounded him, grabbed him and began to beat him.

“You are even called Jacob,” said one of the workers as he joined his colleagues in beating the Chinese man with the bare palms of his hands. “Where have you seen a Chinese man called Jacob if not in Ghana where Chinese just enter and start bearing Ghanaian names like Kojo Adu-Gyamfi or Ayingura Asampana with Chinese faces because they need Ghana Card?”

Picture of the protesting workers extracted from an amateur video taken at the scene.

Things spun out of control when, as the free-for-all began to spread on the 19.54 sq.km. premises, Cardinal’s respected retired Capt. Gbandan emerged at the scene and started issuing warnings to the protesters.

While he was firing the warnings, a section of the angry workers broke away from the midst of their colleagues and began to move towards him at a slow rhythm. Reckoning that an attack was beckoning, the old soldier stepped backwards.

As he walked in reverse, somebody thrust out a hand from a crowd behind him and whacked him hard in the jaw. He held the jaw firmly with both hands and, without looking back to find out who slapped him, ran away from the spot at an enhanced speed.

Moments later, a police team arrived and restored calm. Some military personnel, said to have been telephoned on the quiet from a hideout by the assaulted old soldier, appeared at the scene, too. But the soldiers reportedly left the area in no time after observing that the police had got the situation under control.

Sweet and sour meeting

On Thursday, 14 March 2024, Media Without Borders contacted the slapped security coordinator for his comment.

He answered the telephone call, but ended the conversation immediately after the author of this report introduced himself as a reporter.

The veteran did not answer a subsequent call placed to him. He also did not respond to a message sent to him afterwards through WhatsApp.

Efforts made to reach two other officials of the Cardinal Namdini Mining Limited, Kofi Adusei and Maxwell Wooma, on the same day did not yield any outcome as they did not answer this author’s calls and failed to respond to the messages sent to them via WhatsApp before press time.

On Friday, 15 March 2024, the workers met with the management for the answers promised on Tuesday, 12 March 2024. The management said it was not ready to increase the workers’ wages but announced they could have only two days of rest in a month.

It also said it had no plans to give them appointment or contract letters and added that any worker taken ill anywhere or injured on duty would be sent to health facilities only by the company and their bills footed by it. Also in attendance at the meeting was a representative of the Talensi Traditional Council, the Chief of Baare, Naab Nyarkora Mantii.

A section of the workers at the site.

The workers are far from satisfied with the management’s answers, particularly on their wage increment demand and the length of rest given them. They need no prompt that putting any further pressure on the management for better working conditions simply would mean taking a selfie with instant dismissal.

Some traditional chiefs in the district, according to the workers, have promised to intervene on their behalf. But it remains to be seen if the promised intervention will yield the preferred outcome. And it remains to be seen if the old soldier will get to the bottom of his search.

Source: Edward Adeti/Media Without Borders/mwbonline.org

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