Guard, Transport Union
[Mr. Abdallah resides in two rooms of a house in a suburb of Accra with his wife, four children, and another person. He is in his thirties. He has completed six years of school. Officially Mr. Abdallah is the station master at a suburban lorry park, but he spends most of his time on the road as a guard for the Ghana Private Road Transport Union (GPRTU). The GPRTU guards serve to police the activities of the union's members on the road. He was a driver for ten years before becoming station master about 3 years ago. Mr Abdallah spoke with Stephen Obiri-Yeboah in the Twi language.]
When I became station master, I immediately sold my vehicle because it needed frequent repairs, making its operation uneconomical. I am now a guard for the local branch of the Ghana Private Road Transport Union of the Trade Union Congress. I have the lowest rank as I was among the guards who were most recently trained. As a guard, I do police work.
There are two basic types of guard duties. One group is in charge of the secretarial aspects and the other does the real work of the force. There is no basic educational requirement for those who do the force work, but the guards handling the records and the education aspects must have at a minimum, the Middle School Leaving Certificate. In both groups, the guards should also be drivers. Because of the responsibilities facing guards, there is a nine-month intensive training period which is basically physical education. This includes marching, trotting, and body exercises. The training is almost the same as for the police, army, prisons and fire service, except that they learn how to handle firearms.
In the 1970's, there was division among the drivers in this town as to which union to join. Some joined the co-operative union while others joined the GPRTU I was among the few who initiated the GPRTU. I had a vehicle and assisted the chairman of the local branch in many ways. When the time came for each GPRTU branch to sponsor at least two of its drivers to be trained as guards, I was chosen. The chairman appreciated my contributions to the local branch and my work as station master. He could not leave me behind in spite of the competition. I was therefore given the necessary assistance--a food allowance and training materials like boots, uniform and sports equipment. After nine months' training, we were confirmed as guards and given certificates, numbers and medals.
As a guard for the GPRTU, I work much like the Ghana police assigned to the Motor and Traffic Unit. I leave the house for Accra as early as six o'clock to join the other guards and get on the road somewhere in the Accra area. The work location varies from day to day, depending on the instructions from the senior guards at the district office.
We arrive at our location by nine at the latest. We start work at exactly ten. This gives drivers enough time to have paid their income tax for the day. All drivers of commercial vehicles are required to pay the fee to operate on the roads. The GPRTU collects the fee and issues receipts at lorry stations. It receives a percentage of the taxes and fines collected; this money is used to pay the guards.
We stop drivers on the road to see if they have their receipt for the day's tax; if they don't, they must pay a fine that is five times the cost of the tax. We issue receipts for fees that we collect from these fines. Sometimes, however, some poorly motivated guards may collect for themselves money from drivers who violate the rules. For example, instead of collecting and issuing a receipt for a 1,000 cedi (then, about $2) fine from a driver found not to have an income tax receipt, the guard may take 200 cedis (about 40 cents) from him and let him continue driving.
I work on the road until five in the evening and then report back to the office around six. On the road we don't abandon the work for breaks, but rather rotate break times. We go to work in our blue uniforms with our medals and names on our chest. The uniform is easily identified by the drivers, so they start calling us "sir." The only tools we use are materials for records, such as files, papers, pens, and rulers. These tools enable those of us who are literate to put down the necessary information in reports, which are turned in daily to the office. The reports help the office guards, who are mostly senior officers, keep abreast with what is happening on the road.
We deal almost entirely with drivers when on road duty. An exception is when a passenger is traveling with goods that are banned in the country, such as Indian hemp (marijuana). In this case both the driver and the passenger are arrested and sent to the appropriate quarters. We also check for overloading. The number of excess passengers determines the amount of the fine: 500 cedis (about $1) for every extra passenger for tro-tro vehicles (passenger vans), and 5,000 cedis (about $10) for long journey vehicles. We also check speeding, but since we have not been given the proper device to detect it, we typically only warn the offender. But we report repeated offenders to the office, where they may be charged around 5,000 cedis. If a driver approaches a guard humbly, the guard may be tempted to take a payment rather than send an offender to the office, especially if he fears that the charges may be dropped at the office for a consideration.
Drivers who dress improperly may be fined. We check for drivers who drive with bathroom sandals; the fine this offense is 1,000 cedis. Drivers who have been licensed for less than five years are not allowed to drive on the highway. Such drivers are sent to the office for appropriate action by the senior guards. We also check that the tires and the general body of the vehicle are in good condition or proper order. If a passenger reports that a driver has charged more than the normal fare, the driver must refund the extra amount or he is fined.
All our actions are to minimize accidents on the road and to make passengers feel comfortable when traveling. The drivers are also admonished to have respect for basic laws and to contribute their share towards the nation by paying their taxes.
I am pleased to be called "sir" when a driver is arrested. Drivers don't respect most people. But they exercise restraint when they meet us because we can put them into trouble, even if they have not knowingly done anything wrong. The rules are numerous and complicated. It is difficult for a driver to obey all of them. The drivers who know the flexibility we allow in the rules give us full respect; they come out of their vehicles when talking to us, no matter what their rank. Most of the drivers will call me "sir" on the road.
Our duties have won the respect of the government and all Ghanaians except for a few drivers who want to take the law into their own hands. The government has given us almost the same power as the Motor Traffic Unit of the Ghana police service. Since the establishment of GPRTU guards, the rate of accidents has been drastically reduced, and the government gets a sizable revenue from the daily income tax. The government's recognition of our duties allows us to take part in all of the national marching exercises like the Independence Day celebration on March 6. There are also plans for the government to pay us like the other security forces. The presence of guards at the various lorry parks has reduced theft in urban centers like Accra and Kumasi.
The only thing that worries me is our lack of firearms. It is very difficult for a single guard to arrest pickpockets, who move in groups. Sometimes too, someone may threaten or attack you in the dark when returning from work in the evening. It is not easy to work as a guard without anything do protect yourself, since we sometimes have only one guard in a branch.
I would be happy if we were given arms and training to use them. It would make us safer and feel freer to discharge our duties fully as expected. Lack of arms to protect ourselves makes us watch our actions when dealing with drivers or people who are known to be criminals. There was an instance when we could not stop a vehicle without a proper registration number that was carrying Indian hemp on the Accra-Koforidua road. The driver approaching us gave two warning shots, and just passed us by. Later he met the police who were able to arrest him. We could have shot out all his tires if we had arms.
There is a good relationship among the guards at all ranks. In spite of the difference in our duties, we share gifts almost equally. The senior guards, who have more experience because of their long service, use our free time (mostly around nine o'clock in the morning) to advise us about the work. They advise us to use language that is not provocative to drivers and to exercise restraint, even if we are angry, to bring about peace. They say we should not compare ourselves to other forces like the police as we are not armed, and more important, because we depend on the drivers for our pay.
Drivers who appreciate our work may even present to us gifts such as foodstuffs and money. Some even present gifts so that if they become offenders some day, we will give them special consideration. But some passengers insult us in low voices when their drivers are delayed by having to pay fines.
Besides the GPRTU which is under the Trade Union Congress, the guards have their own committee of guards. We meet once a week to pay our dues and discuss matters relating to our demands and efficiency. The committee donates money to members when their wives give birth, for funerals and for end-of-year parties.
Guards don't receive a salary. Rather, we live on allowances from the various branches of the GPRTU. The guards must spend part of their allowance to buy boots and uniforms. There are no accommodation benefits, nor any medical allowance when one becomes sick. As a driver, I travel free of charge, especially when I appear in my uniform. There is nothing like annual nor casual leaves as our allowance is paid only when we work.
Promotion opportunities depend on the hiring of new guards; when they are added, others may move up. But sometimes, if there are vacancies, and a guard's conduct and efficiency is exceptional, senior officers may recommend that the National Guard Commander promote him. Some guards may try to get a promotion by giving gifts to their superiors. Some also seek assignments to roads with heavy traffic, where there is more opportunity to receive gifts, in the same fashion.
In spite of this situation, I am proud to be a guard and would recommend the job to anyone who wishes to join. One can depend on gifts from the road to survive.
I also get enough time to visit my family and parents during the weekends, when I don't work. I can travel to my home town in the Eastern Region without having to pay a fare. My wife travels free of charge as most of the drivers in town know her. I also get enough time to rest when I am tired. I even do farming on Saturdays and Sundays. I also get enough time to pray (he is a muslim), whether at the work place or in the house. I have also made more friends as a result of my work. I am also subjected to morning exercises which maintains my physical condition. Since I started working as a guard, I have looked young and active.