By Suraya Alidu Malititi, Ghana
When Rashad Mohammed Rahmat, now 37 dedicated himself to serving his country with pride and honor, he never imagined that the journey he had undertaken was suicidal.
If anything, Mohammed thought his mobility impairment would necessitate better working conditions as enshrined in national and international legal instruments.
Instead, Mohammed and dozens of his fellow compatriots with disabilities in Ghana soon found themselves out of employment in 2021 following the introduction of an electronic tax system in the country.
Hundreds of toll-both workers with disabilities were dropped, following the cancellation of road toll collection, but were immediately promised financial compensation and redeployment to different sectors by the Minister for Roads and Highways Mr Kwasi Amoako Atta.
Mohammed, who is an executive member of the Ghanaians with Disability Toll-booth Workers Union was not born disabled. He was diagnosed with poliomyelitis, like many of his fellow persons with physical disabilities. He lost one leg, but this did not stop his desire to work hard to sustain his two children, wife, extended relatives, and peers with disabilities in Ghana.
However, the father of two says only grace has kept him alive for the past two years following the government’s refusal to pay their outstanding salary arrears and redeploy them as earlier promised.
“What we are facing is more than death. We are in hell and lack the right means to express ourselves,” he told TWIF NEWS in an exclusive interview recently.
As soon as Mohammed lost his job two years ago, his wife abandoned him and their two kids, now 9 and 6 years respectively. Mohammed fears the future looks bleak for his children if authorities do not do the needful, immediately.
He intimated to TWIF NEWS that some of his colleagues who could not bear the new reality imposed on them by the government committed suicide.
“At least two of my colleagues recently took away their own lives because they could not believe that a Minister who promised them compensation suddenly invited police to lock them up,” he sadly revealed.
Credible sources say the Roads and Highways Minister publicly told the disgruntled group that making any payment to them would pose a huge loss to the state.
How the crisis was politicized
Following the abolishment of the road toll collection, at least three ministers including that of Roads and Highways took turns in the national assembly to explain that disabled workers affected by the new policy would be duly compensated.
Two years after the promise, it seems to be a matter of open discrimination against the disabled laborers who now live at the mercy of goodwill donations, watching the government redeploy their former nondisabled colleagues.
Why a solution is dire
Apart from two suicide cases recorded owing to the raging crisis, many are also developing depression and other mental health complications.
Experts say the government’s delaying of a solution to the impasse will only exacerbate a situation they say is already deplorable.
“We need so much psychosocial support because what we are experiencing is the highest form of inhumanity from our government whom we should run to in times of adversity,” Mohammed disclosed sorrowfully.
Meanwhile, the Ghana Federation of Disability Organisations, GFD in a strongly worded statement recently, condemned the brutal crackdown on the toll-booth workers by police and their illegal arrest while at the Ministry of Roads and Highways to voice out their frustration.
The government labeled the action in front of the ministry as an act of unauthorized civil disobedience which the minister claimed was a violation of national law.
Mohammed however says they were not out for any protest yet.
“The minister himself told us that each time we have to see him, only a few members representing the union should come so that it does not look like we are staging a public demonstration and I can tell you with all sincerity that this is exactly what we did but were arrested,” he recounted.
The aggrieved former Toll Workers with Disability Union stormed the Ministry of Roads to have firsthand information why for over two years; the promise to pay their remuneration was not being fulfilled. A mission that they anticipated would be fruitful ended up in their arrest.
They spent over three hours at the Accra Central Police Station before later released.
TWIF NEWS understands a public protest is being planned by the chagrined toll-booth workers if nothing tangible is done to address their worries.
The date for the protest remains unclear though, but leaders of the Union say it is a matter of “life and death”.
Reacting to the maltreatment of the workers recently, the GFD expressed discontentment, entreating the government to respect the democratic rights of the workers who the disabled people-led organization insists are citizens of Ghana like anyone else.
“The actions taken against the toll collectors with disabilities are most unfortunate, reprehensible, and embarrassing,” GFD said in a statement.
A year ago, Ghana co-hosted the Global Disability Summit and the GFD thinks this should have sounded as an alarm bell to the government’s high-handedness in handling the current crisis.
This is because the state should normally cater to the vulnerable, and persons with disabilities are no exception.
While unequivocally urging the government to immediately pay all financial compensations owed to the workers based on the terms of employment, the GFD reminded the state of the need for inclusive and equitable employment enshrined in national and international legal frameworks to which Ghana is a signatory.
Article 27 of the 2006 UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, for instance, calls on parties to employ disabled people compatible with the nature of their disability.
Alex Kojo Tetteh, Executive President of the Centre for Employment of Persons with Disabilities in Ghana expressly told TWIF NEWS that the outcome of an expected meeting with the Roads and Highways minister in the days ahead would be crucial in deciding what direction the fight will take next.
The suffering workers look ahead to the day their tears would dry away, and this must happen fast before they die like some of their colleagues did recently.
Edited by Kesah Princely