Sun, May

Elizabeth Ohene writes: Maybe we don’t need leave

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  • For the moment, however, it is enough to say congratulations to the first female Vice-Chancellor, on becoming the vice-presidential candidate of a major political party.

One thing struck me in the ongoing tussle between the Auditor General and the Presidency: the Auditor General is entitled to 44 working days leave in a year.

I know that the accepted doctrine in Ghana is that the public service is not well remunerated, and I might well be stepping on some sore toes by saying this, but it seems to me the public service in Ghana is surprisingly generous in the most unexpected ways.

I doubt that the Auditor General is the one with the most generous conditions of service in the public service, but I have been trying to find another position outside Ghana that offers 44 working days leave in a year and I haven’t yet found one.

The Americans, especially, are quite mean when it comes to vacation. When you get 25 days leave in a year in the United States, you are at the very apex of the leave pinnacle. Two weeks is what most people get as leave in God’s Own Country.

Leave hierarchy

There might well be some others in Ghana that are better placed in the leave hierarchy than the Auditor General, but once you start looking, you discover that arrangements for leave are rather generous in Ghana.

There might be legitimate complaints about wages and salary, but once you are employed and especially in the public service, leave, holidays and time off work are better than can be found in many other places.

I am not sure how it started and if it is simply that our labour negotiators are better at what they do than labour officials in other places.

It is normal practice here for junior officials to have 28 working days and senior officials to have 36 working days as leave. This, in a country where you can be sure of getting however many extra days off for funerals once there is a death. We are even more generous with what is termed compassionate leave.

And yet I doubt that anyone can claim that we are the most hardworking people on earth and, therefore, in need of long periods of rest.


The arguments about leave accumulation lead you to wonder even more why we bother to negotiate for such generous leave terms. I have not found the reason, but in the public service in this country, you will find that taking leave is not popular with many people.

If people can find a reason not to, they would not take their earned leave. If it is possible to convert the leave period into cash, most people would much rather opt for that, and this is what led to the practice of accumulated leave.

It became normal practice, especially in the period leading to going on retirement for people to refuse to take any leave for years, and then have the accumulated leave period converted into money.

This loophole is being plugged and everyone is now expected to take leave in the year in which it is due and not roll it over to the next year.

Those who work in HR know that one of the trickiest things they have to negotiate has to do with asking people to go on leave. Being asked to go on leave is often seen as a disciplinary action or a punishment and it is no wonder that leave-taking remains a difficult transaction in many organisations in this country.

If we are so reluctant to take a designated period of rest away from work, I wonder if one can conclude that we don’t work hard enough to feel tired and in need of rest.

If we worked hard, we would be tired and no one would try to coax, never mind, force us to take leave and have some rest and be rejuvenated for work.

Leisure industry

Part of the problem of course is that we have not really developed the leisure industry enough to make taking vacation worthwhile. Some people fear taking leave because they are terrified of boredom.

If the vacation spots around the country were well developed and there were varying spots to suit different pockets, maybe we might all start planning and looking forward to our period of leave instead of fearing it.

We might indeed, plan for our holidays right at the beginning of the year, instead of the HR department springing a surprise on us and making it sound like a punishment.

But what if the truth is that we do not work that hard and do not, in fact, need all that leave the unions have negotiated for us over the years? Maybe we do not need the 28, or 36, or 44 working days, plus how many more public holidays as time off work.

Maybe we should just be brave and admit this and agree to a lesser number of days as paid leave, especially now that people are not going to be allowed to either accumulate or covert the leave into cash.

Or maybe our tourism people would take up a Vacation Around Ghana campaign and convince all of us to get to know Ghana during our leave period. Who knows, we would soon start seeing leave not as a punishment but for what it is meant to be, a rest period from work.

I have no doubt that many of the Ghanaian workers who have recently arrived back home after having been evacuated from places such as Lebanon, Saudi Arabia would be surprised to discover the leave arrangements in their own country.

I refer especially to the young women who had been serving as house helps in Lebanon and the Gulf countries and have come back home with truly horrendous stories.

These young women who often could not get a day off work in these countries were sending the obligatory $100 remittance home for their families.

Welcome Professor Naana

I do have a lot to say about the addition to the NDC presidential ticket of Professor Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang.

For the moment, however, it is enough to say congratulations to the first female Vice-Chancellor, on becoming the vice-presidential candidate of a major political party.

Welcome to the hurly-burly of political campaigning. It won’t be like the university campus, it won’t be like being appointed to be Minister of Education.

Welcome and congratulations.

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