COVID-19:  Keeping workers healthy and safe

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Labour Day or May day constitutes an annual acknowledgment of the contribution and  commitment  of workers  in their fields of work.

This year’s Labour day was celebrated under very peculiar circumstances. It was celebrated virtually and without the usual march past and fanfare due to the Coronavirus or COVID -19 pandemic which has initiated protocols on social or physical distancing and restricted movements which all countries including Ghana are  strictly observing  to help contain or minimize the spread of the disease .

The Coronavirus which has infected 3,175,207, 26,663 globally and in Africa 26 663 (World Health Organisation  Situation Report 102 as at 1st May 2020 )  whilst here  in Ghana we have a total confirmed cases of  2,074  with 17 deaths and 212 recoveries as at 30th April 2020 (Ghana Health Service Report) is not only a serious public health concern but  also adversely affecting  the economies of the world..

The beginning of the year was met with great expectations for our economy. The 2020 budget for example projected a GDP growth of 6.8% which unfortunately is expected to plummet to 2.6% or lower because of the reduction in revenues due to global effects of the Coronavirus.

The disease which as at date has no vaccine or treatment has resulted in a decline in trading volumes and values, disruptions to global supply chains, decline in foreign direct investment and shortfalls in commodity prices due to fall in demand, the restriction of the movements of people, lockdown measures and closure of national borders.

The international financial agencies are leading the course in taking brisk measures to   ease the negative effects    this coronavirus is posing to countries of the world, and in particular  the developing countries  with their very  fragile economies, since it has been  predicted that, the pandemic if not quickly contained, could lead the global economy into recession.

In March 2020 the President of Ghana announced a US$100 million support package from the World Bank through the Ghana Emergency Preparedness and Response Package(EPRP) , the International Monetary Fund(IMF) has also  approved a US$1 billion  under the Rapid Credit Facility  for Ghana to help address the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Government of Ghana through these support packages has and continues to introduce various interventions and stimulus packages to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus on  households and businesses Some of these  are:

  1. 5% decrease in the policy rate and 2% decrease in reserve requirement by the Bank of Ghana.
  2. GH¢3 billion facility to support industry especially the pharmaceutical, hospitality, service and manufacturing sectors.
  3. GH¢1 billion cedis to support households and businesses particularly small and medium scale enterprises.
  4. 2% reduction in interest rates by banks.
  5. A six-month moratorium of principal repayments to entities in the airline and hospitality industries.
  6. Extension of tax filing dates from April to June.
  7. Three months tax holiday for health workers
  8. Mobile money operators to send up to GH¢100 free.
  9. 100% to 300% increase in the daily transaction limits for mobile money transactions.
  10. Absorption of water bills by the government of all Ghanaians for the months of  April, May and June 2020.
  11. 100% absorption of electricity consumption for lifeline consumers (persons who consume zero to 50 kilowatts hours a month) similarly for the months of April, May and June  and a 50%  absorption for non-life consumers.

As  we celebrate this year’s Labour day under these dire circumstances it is important  to call on the labour unions to partner employers within their industries  who are experiencing  unprecedented  challenges   to agree on  and execute  measures  that can protect and secure the health and safety of workers.

Workers are the most valuable assets in an organisation and it is trite to reiterate the fact that a sound and healthy workforce leads to higher productivity.

Several employers have adopted measures such as rotational scheduling of work to reduce the number of workers actually present at work or in the office, with majority being encouraged to work from home.

The International Labour Organisation has stated that its Recommendation No 205 on Employment and Decent Work for Peace and Resilience (R205) is an effective instrument for governments, employers and worker organisations to address the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. The earlier Recommendation No.197, 2006)  provides guidelines for member states in their  implementation  of Occupational Health and Safety policies.

All of the above in addition to the guidance and information  issued from time to time  by the Ghana Health Service, the Ghana Employers Association  and several associations and organisations are crucial   to help minimize the spread of the disease.

One of effects of the coronavirus  pandemic is that the future of work will be altered and will never be the same. The social or physical  distancing protocols, altering of work processes to minimise contact amongst workers and last but not the least directing  workers to adopt new and different conduct at work are a few of such changes.

Due to the decline in business operations and consequent reduction in revenues, employers in some sectors in particular are having difficulty in honouring their statutory and contractual obligations. These are indeed not ordinary times and calls for strategic collaboration by all interested parties and stakeholders to secure the health and safety of our dear workers and help   sustain businesses

S.118 (1) of the Labour Act 2003 provides that  it is the duty of the employer to ensure that every worker employed by him or her works under satisfactory, safe and healthy conditions.

S.118 (2)(c) of the same Act obligates the employer to provide necessary information, instructions, training and supervision to ensure health and safety at the work place.

Under S.118 (2)(e) the employer is to supply and maintain at no cost to the worker adequate safety appliances and personal protective equipment and instructions on their use.

Whilst the employer has the above responsibilities, the worker on the other hand is  obligated under  S118(3) to use the safety appliances and personal protective equipment provided by the employer in compliance with the employer’s instructions .

Any employer who without reasonable excuse fails to discharge these obligations commits an offence and is per S118(5) liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding 1000 penalty units or to imprisonment or both.

This should provide grounds for the employer to institute a management system which ensures that, workers are provided with suitable and appropriate PPEs and  are used in accordance with authorised specifications. A case in point is Amazon the global leader in online marketing which was recently was sanctioned in France, “ for  failing to recognize its obligations regarding the security and health of its workers”.

Whilst our  authorities  and health facilities  are carrying on with contract tracing, testing and treatment of persons, we would advise organized labour  to partner employers  to ensure the above outlined  provisions from the Labour Act 2003 (Act 651) and relevant provisions of the Factories Offices and Shops Act 1970(Act 328) the Public Health Act 2008(Act 851) and  other  laws and regulations not necessarily mentioned here together with the various guidelines on health and safety  issued by relevant internationals agencies  are   strictly adhered to,  to  help contain  the spread of the coronavirus at workplaces.

It is necessary that the employer and worker exhibit the duty of care to each other in these times. This may involve a total transformation of organisational structures, work cultures, work processes and business operations during and post Covid-19.

Finally it is important  to  consider the brilliant innovations taking place within this period; the local production of personal protective equipment, hand sanitizers,  further enhancements  of the veronica buckets among others to  conclude that, this an opportune time to accelerate our industrialisation drive .

On this note we say “Ayekoo” particularly to essential and frontline workers and to all workers in general.

To the central  government and institutions, we say kudos for the great strides being made.

We will all together survive this pandemic .

Long live our motherland!!!

Authors:  Mawusi Kpakpah, Health & Safety Advocate(Taymac) & Ekua Eguakun, Legal Practitioner.

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