Ghana, as of many other countries, has laws governing both the employer and the employee to ensure they are protected against labour-related abuses.
Ghana’s Labour Law requires employees, both in the formal and informal sectors, to work for a maximum of eight hours but in the event that workers exceed the maximum hours, the Labour Law recommends the payment of overtime.
Even though this may be common knowledge to employers, many, especially those in the informal sector, do not conform to the tenets of the regulation.
As a result of the gap in the Law and the informal nature of engagement of some category of employees in the informal sector, domestic workers especially work more than the required duration and are not paid as recommended.
Some foreign-owned companies apply the rules pertaining in their countries to run their businesses. Checks made by the Ghana News Agency (GNA) reveal that majority of domestic workers have no formal contract, which is aiding employers to dodge statutory payments, especially Social Security.
On one occasion, some domestic workers of a Chinese company told the GNA that they often worked for more than eight hours without being paid overtime.
On Ghana’s national holidays, the recent one being the New Year’s Day, they had to work in order to avoid that day’s wage being deducted from their monthly pay.
“Even when it is their (Chinese) public holidays we work and close at the wee hours of the morning because they organise a party for their workers and we have to serve and tidy the place after the party. We are mandated to report to work very early the following day,” Linda Agbo, 28, a native of Peki in the Volta Region, said in an interview.
She and the other four ladies who work with the company as cleaners and cooks are banned from either drinking water or eating at the kitchen. They are also not to bring food to work.
Ms Agbo said: “If workers are found to have brought food here it is a big problem, it is either they deduct some money from your salary or even dismiss you.”
Walking me through her daily routine, she explained that she reports to work at 0600 hours, cleans and prepares breakfast for the Chinese workers. After she had served them, she starts preparing lunch, which she serves and goes for an hour’s break.
“Our residence is like 20 minutes walk from the office and in a day we have only one hour break so by the time you walk to the residence and back you are already late and that will be deducted from your salary,” she said.
Upon her return she prepares dinner and serves the workers and leaves to her place of abode at 2200 hours.
Despite their dedication to work, the employers, especially the women, verbally abuse them and sometimes physically assault them. They are also disrespected and paid eight Ghana cedis a day, which is below the National Minimum Wage of 10.65 Ghana cedis. These workers have no idea that those abuses need to be reported to the Labour Department.
Do not get it twisted because these kinds of abuses are not only happening in these foreign companies. Similar ones also occur at various local restaurants, drinking spots, ‘chop bars’ and the artisanal industry including the salons and dressmaking shops.
For instance, the GNA’s checks at some ‘chop bars’ in Accra, Tema, Kumasi, Takoradi and Tamale revealed that work starts as early as 0200 hours and ends at 1900 hours on daily basis. These chop bars are mostly found at busy lorry stations and market centres. It must be noted, however, that other bigger restaurants operate the shift system.
Interactions with these informal workers reveal that they agree to work without any formal agreement with their employers and are often limited to their wage with no allowances attached. They are unable to discuss the wage because they are vulnerable and have no negotiation skills.
Ms Yaa Nyarkoa, a 23-year old native of Tarkwa, who works with a popular food joint in Accra, confirmed she was employed verbally and her job roles were verbal. Any modification to the terms of reference was via word of mouth and, as a result, she and her co-workers were paid at will and cannot request for an upward adjustment in wage.
Many women who found themselves in this situation are unable to plan their finances and life in general.
At a national stakeholder’s forum to mark the 16 days of activism, participants called on the Government to ratify the International Labour Organisation’s Convention for decent work for domestic workers and implement the recommendations that go with it.
The Acting Head of the Organisation Department of the Ghana Trades Union Congress (TUC), Mr Eric Amoadu Boateng, emphatically stated that more than 50 per cent of women working in the informal sector are paid below the minimum wage. Some members of the Ghana Hairdressers/Beauticians Association corroborated the low remuneration of workers in the sector but argued that it was because some of their members do not charge the required fee for their services. This makes most of them earn less, which they attributed it to their inability to cost their work appropriately while some operate at sub-standard levels.
Madam Monica Fayosi, 20, a mother who works at a ‘chop bar’ says she is paid 10 Ghana cedis for her daily wage and extra working hours.
She was, however, unable to discuss her wage because she had no negotiation skills and needed a job urgently to make ends meet.
“I needed money to take care of my children and my mother so it did not come to mind that we need to discuss the payment. Again the work is for her so she can decide to employ or not to employ me. My mother and daughter are back home in Krobo Odumasi (Eastern Region of Ghana) so I need to work hard and remit,” she said.
Mr Eugene N. Korletey, the Acting Labour Officer at the Labour Department, told the GNA that this is wrong and contrary to the Labour Law.
The Labour Act regulates the payment of wages and requires that wages be paid in legal tender to all classes of workers and mandates the employer to make timely payment of remuneration to the workers.
He, however, said the Labour Law is not exhaustive and had some challenges regarding the regulation of domestic workers.
“People working in domestic establishments in Ghana will soon be recognised as formal workers. This new regulation is expected to come into force as soon as Parliament considers the Bill to regularise the work of domestic workers,” Mr Korletey said.
“It is unfortunate that women, who form a larger part of the society, do so much work yet their efforts are not recognised as much.”
Though Mr Korletey could not readily give the total number of domestic work cases the Department had addressed, he said there was quite a number of cases on unfair termination and dismissal of domestic workers pending adjudication.
He noted that immediately a person is given employment, the Labour Law mandates the employer to make provision for remuneration, overtime, statutory deductions, maternity, and social security.
Most employees do not know about the Labour Department to report labour related cases and appealed to the media to create awareness about the existence of the Department and the services it renders.
“The law is a sleeping giant and it is the individual’s responsibility to report such issues to the Labour Department to trigger its operation,” he added.
Ms Cynthia Pra, the National Information Officer at the United Nations Information Centre, said violence against women and girls was one of the most pervasive human rights violations occurring in the world and in Ghana, a significant number of women and girls continued to suffer from such issues in silence.
Statistics from the Domestic Violence and Victim Support Unit (DOVVSU) of the Ghana Police Service show that 30,408 assault cases were reported nationally between 2011 and 2016, most of which were assaults on women.
“Violence against women and girls is a major infringement of human rights. It has become a major barrier to women in being able to enjoy their rights and freedoms on a basis of equality with men. Violence against women and girls also has a huge economic price tag,” she said.
Ms Margaret Brew-Ward, the Advocacy and Campaigns Manager at ActionAid Ghana, says majority of domestic workers in Ghana are women and most of them are vulnerable to violence, harassment, forced labour and abuse. She said a lot of young urban women worked in restaurants, night clubs, chop bars and hotels among others without social protection. She called on all stakeholders to join efforts at ensuring the informal sector is regulated as the formal sector to offer decent jobs for young urban women.
By Yaw Ansah