Workplace Back-to-Back: Employing a ‘casual’ worker
The casual worker in my opinion is one of the key and critical workforce for resourcing the nation. The Casual worker is often viewed as unskilled labour undertaking menial jobs such as loading and offloading goods from and unto tracks, digging trenches, weeding, cleaning and other activities viewed as menial. This skills force constitute the majority of workforces in the country. The porta population in agbogbloshie alone can attest to this fact.
‘Casual workers’ have been grossly exploited over the years. However, there is protection for such workers under the Labour Laws of Ghana and this article seeks to bring to the fore issues and discrepancies in casual employment or casual work which is fast becoming the norm. This article will also explain what exactly casual employment or casual work is or should be under the Labour Laws of Ghana. And especially provide enough knowledge to ensure that casual workers are employed and managed in accordance with their employment rights and the practices that protect these rights.
Let’s start by identifying some of the discrepancies in casual employment over the years. The first as identified is calling casual workers “labourers”. The word labourer is generally defined as a manual worker who does not need any skills to undertake jobs as assigned. These may include weeding, lifting or loading, or any menial job as assigned. The use of the word labourer depicts someone engaged to do manual work and is often the least placed and least paid in the workplace.
But a closer scrutiny reveals that these are the persons who do all the jobs that keeps the workplace clean, and the business running. They dig, clean, soil themselves in dust and dirty fluids, they break their backs to load or offload goods, package goods etc. And so you would think that these class of workers will be given the needed attention for business continuity. Perhaps, a contributing factor to this neglect is that they are easily replaceable because they do not hold or need any peculiar skills to do their job efficiently.
Another discrepancy is deprived earnings. Because casual work is not supposed to be remunerated like continuous and permanent work due to its nature, employers who seek to cut down on labour cost will tag any type of work as casual work to deprive the workers of deserved earnings even when they know that the work is not casual in nature. It is on record that persons called causal workers have sometimes slaved for their masters for very long periods and sometimes span over decades. But because their work is tagged as casual, they continue to earn incomes that hardly improve their livelihoods over the years.
A third discrepancy is an obvious lack of medical and sometimes changing room/washroom facilities for casual workers. Though employers are supposed to be fully responsible for the health and safety of every worker, casual workers are sometimes left out of the loop. Organizations sometimes fail to provide adequate protection for casual workers, fail to provide washroom and changing room facilities for casual workers and deny them of medical coverage. All this is on the assumption that the casual worker is not entitled to such benefits. So they are robbed of what they should enjoy deservedly.
Because of the nature of casual work, which is remunerated ‘by day’ no notice of termination is needed when any of the parties (worker or employer) seeks to end the employment relationship. So by tagging persons as casual workers, they can be gotten rid of easily, at any time and at the whim of the employer. Some casual workers are on record to have worked for their companies for more than a decade only to be told one fine day to go home and never come back because their services are no longer required.
Casual Employment and the Casual Worker in Perspective
The Labour Laws provide for casual employment and defines a casual worker as “a worker engaged on a work which is seasonal or intermittent and not for more than six months and whose remuneration is calculated on a daily basis”.
The words that set casual employment apart from all others are ‘seasonal’ and ‘intermittent’. Casual work is not continues or permanent. If it is seasonal, then it comes once in a while which means that the need for casual employment should only arise periodically. Intermittent work means work that comes up every now and then but does not arise every time. So for example, it is the nature of the work which will determine whether the work is casual or not, and not necessarily because an employer chooses to call the work casual or the worker as a casual worker. The fact that an employer has tagged a worker ‘casual employee’ does not make the work s/he does casual in nature.
Hence, casual work or employment has some unique characteristics. One of such characteristics is that the employment may or may not be in writing. Because casual work is supposed to be quite simple and informal, it is not necessarily required for it to be in writing. The terms of employment for casual work are straight forward and less technical as the relationship is expected to be brief.
Another characteristic is that casual employment cannot be for more than six months. The fact that casual work cannot be for more than six months stresses how brief it is supposed to be. Casual workers are periodic workers who do not work regularly over the year. When called upon, they work and are paid and the payment of their wages concludes each cycle of engagement and such relationship is severed at the payment of agreed wages and the execution of the job.
Another unique characteristic of casual work is that wages are calculated per day. A casual worker is paid on the basis of the number of days worked. Where a casual worker does not show up for work on a particular day, s/he is not paid for that day. The wages of a casual worker is calculated on a daily basis and paid daily, weekly or monthly depending on the organization.
It is perhaps pardonable not to know much about casual work as this type of employment is highly technical. For one, an employer or its representative needs to be able to identify a particular job as casual before handing it out as work on a casual basis. An employer will need to know and identify the characteristics mentioned above in order to understand, classify and categorize a particular job as casual work. Short of identifying a specific type of work as casual work and engaging workers on same terms, employers are bound to make some common errors which I have referred to as abuse of the casual employment system. The determination of work that qualifies as casual will take the identification of a combination of the above characteristics but not just a single characteristic.
Errors in Casual Employment
Because casual work or employment is so misunderstood, it has been misconstrued to mean something else. The first erroneous impression created about casual work is that all casual workers are labourers. Or better still, all people who do menial jobs must be casual workers. So most often, you find people working in jobs that are continuous in nature but called casual workers. For these reasons, they are treated as casuals and robbed of their deserved earnings. For example, a factory which operates 24/7 would tag its packaging staff or factory hands (staff on processing lines) as casuals and deny them of medical coverage, proper safety and fire protection etc. A warehouse will call its loaders who work around the clock as casuals because their jobs are considered non skilled and menial or basic.
A second error is that Employers are coerced by Unions and informal worker groups to commute the employment of casual workers who have worked for more than six months into permanent workers. This is highly erroneous because though a breach of the provision that casual workers shall not be employed for more than six months, the solution or rectification of such breach is not for employees (casual workers) to be made permanent but the payment of compensation as remedy for the unfair treatment.
For this reason, and to avoid making casual workers permanent after employment for six months, most employers have devised several coy ways of dealing with this issue to remain in compliance with their erroneous impressions. They structure employment in periodic blocks of three months and/or six months on renewable basis. So an employer will decide to give what they call ‘casual’ employees three or six months contracts on renewable basis and continue to renew the contracts for as long as the employee is needed.
The only differences in these renewed contracts often are the ‘date’. Otherwise, it is the same contract document with same wording and structure recycled over the years. After years of these automated renewals, the employee is asked to go home because his/her services is no longer required and that the ‘contract’ will not be renewed. This is not only unprofessional; it depicts a clear misunderstanding and misapplication of the Labour Law. Indeed, one can argue that it is a continuity of service, especially where the employee continues to do the same job in the same work environment under the same conditions of employment.
It is also because a closer look at such renewable casual work terms granted to employees will indeed confirm that nothing in the wordings and structure of the terms are different, apart from the commencement and completion dates which change. Certainly, an employee treated this way will be bitter because s/he might have worked on a continuous basis for years under the same working conditions and environment. And it can be definitely argued that such treatment is exploitative and indeed not casual employment at Law. To think that casual workers are sometimes denied of SSNIT payments, medical care, payment for overtime, proper sanitary facilities, and the various allowances that apply to continues and permanent workers is wrong.
A final error is the assumption that casual workers are not supposed to enjoy medical facilities as any other worker in the workplace, must be paid lesser than other permanent workers employed on similar work schedules and that casual workers cannot earn overtime pay. All these are erroneous as casual workers deserve to be remunerated for work of equal worth as any other worker in an organization for uniformity of pay per pay grades or levels.
Organizations must begin to address their minds to the above errors in order to provide some fairness to employees who are engaged to do menial jobs in the workplace. Working in menial job schedules that do not require any set of particular skills is not a disadvantage for someone must do these jobs to ensure business continuity. It is not degradable and indecent to do casual work and hence workers who do these jobs should not be treated as such. Rather they must be celebrated and respected as part of the team that gets the job done.
The unskilled labour force must be given the opportunity to earn a decent living through wages that are fair and reflect decent wage levels that are uniform across the board of pay grades. Such workers should not be exploited in the name of casual work for especially work that is obviously not casual in nature. The onus lies on regulatory bodies such as the National Labour Commission to ensure that organizations engage workers on the right and lawful terms.
With the increasing population including the population of unskilled labour in Ghana, employers must strive to treat menial job workers a bit more decently to sustain a moral pride in doing certain jobs that are considered inferior, degraded and only for the down trodden. After all, many Ghanaians scramble for these same jobs when they travel outside the country for greener pastures at rates that are still ambiguously low. Let’s not tag hardworking employees as casual workers only to rob them of remuneration and benefits they deserve.