GAWU as a Union of change has always advocated for the rights of workers, especially those within the agricultural value chain since its establishment as a trade union in the year 1959.
Some of these include advocating for the involvement of rural farmer’s participation in the world trade, advocating on issues related to the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), advocating for the empowerment of players within the local poultry industry, advocating for the reduction of rice imports into the country and rather support the local rice industry and advocate for the ratification of ILO convention 184 on health and safety in agriculture. All these advocacy actions the Union has achieved favorable results.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) poor occupational health and reduced working capacity of workers may cause economic loss up to 10-20% of the Gross National Product of a country.
In countries like Ghana with fast growing workforce coupled with a growing informal sector, workers have tended to fight for job security neglecting the need for quality work life. It is argued that poor countries and companies cannot afford safety and health measures. However, there is no evidence that any country or company in the long run would have benefited from poor safety and health.
Also, the right to life is the most fundamental right yet every year 2.2 million men and women are deprived of that right through occupational accidents and work-related diseases (ILO, 2005). By conservative estimates workers suffer 270 million occupational accidents and 160 million occupational diseases each year (ILO, 2005).
This is perhaps just the tip of the iceberg, as data for estimating non-fatal illness and injury are not available in most developing countries (DCPP, 2007). Occupational injuries alone account for more than 10 million Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) lost, or healthy years of life lost whether to disability or premature death, and 8% of unintentional injuries worldwide (DCPP, 2007).
The situation in Ghana is not any different. Ghana has no national policy on OSHE and has not ratified the core ILO convention on Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) (155), though a draft policy was developed in year 2000 which is yet to be adopted. Lack of a comprehensive OHS policy, poor infrastructure and the general lack of adequate information is a major drawback to improved working conditions, higher productivity and better quality of goods and services.
The World Health Organization (WHO) Health for All principles and ILO Conventions on Occupational Safety and Health (No. 155) however, stipulates every worker has the right of access to occupational health and safety services, irrespective of the sector of the economy, size of the company, or type of assignment and occupation. The Rio Declaration on environment and development (1992) also states that ―human beings are at the center of concerns for sustainable development.
Surprisingly the core conventions on occupational safety and health (i.e., Conventions 155) have not been ratified in Ghana. Though the promulgated labour Act 2003, Act 651 has a section which covers Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) (i.e., Section 15), it is amazing that the very tenets on which the section is built (i.e., International Labour Organization (ILO) Conventions 155) have not been ratified by the government as yet.
Also, it is worth noting that Ghana has ratified ILO Convention 184 on health and safety in agriculture and has a number of laws such as the Factories, Shops and Offices Act of 1970, Act 328 and the 1992 constitution of Ghana, section 24(1) which states that “every person has the right to work under safe and healthy conditions”.
These provisions are in bit and pieces and do not address the gravitas of the OSH&E problem in Ghana, hence exposing the worker to numerous hazards and risk. The Health, Safety and Environment of employees are crucial for the development of every country, since productivity greatly thrives on the wellbeing of the working population.
It is therefore imperative that issues relating to health and safety are taking very seriously by the government and employers all over the world. Providing a safer working environment and the appropriate equipment increases not only productivity but also improves the morale of workers.
The COVID-19 outbreak therefore serves as a wake-up call to all governments to do more to protect the lives of the global working force. Particularly, the government of Ghana needs to draw lessons from this pandemic and quicken the process of ratifying the ILO convention 155 on Occupational Health and Safety and adopt a National OSH policy.
The global pandemic has left the world in much trepidation and taken countries by surprise with total recorded cases reaching 1,954,024 million and 125, 070 deaths as at April 14, 2020. By this date, Ghana had recorded 636 confirmed cases and 8 deaths.
Notwithstanding the social interventions of Government, such as the free hot meals and water supply, as well as partly free electricity supply with an insurance package worth GH₵350, 000 per each front line staff coupled with the three months none taxed salary increase which is commendable, harnessing the potential to create decent and productive jobs and shared prosperity such as the enforcement of key ILO conventions is imperative to achieving sustainable development and equitable economic growth.
As such investment in occupational safety and health yields improved working conditions, higher productivity and better quality of goods and services. However, in spite of the numerous investments that the country attracts with its accompanying Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) related issues, Ghana as a nation is dragging its feet to have a national policy on OSH and ratify ILO convention 155. This is a major drawback to improved working conditions and higher productivity.
There is therefore the need to have a comprehensive national policy on OSH and the necessary process activated towards the ratification of ILO convention 155 on Occupational Safety and Health.
Also, appropriate Laws should be developed to enforce Occupational Safety and Health. It is for this reason, to ensure safety and health standards are upheld in the country and the need to review and adopt the draft national OSH policy for implementation, while initiating the necessary steps and processes to have ILO convention 155 ratified by Ghana, the General Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU), with the support of the BUSAC Fund and its partners DANIDA and USAID, is carrying out an advocacy program on convention 155 in which it commissioned a study to assess the critical factors affecting the adoption of the National OSH Policy in Ghana and also assess the barriers to the adoption of a National OSH Policy. To this end, GAWU is calling on Government to;
- Review the draft Occupational Safety and Health policy development by the Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations for adoption and activate the process for the ratification of ILO convention 155 on Occupational Safety and Health now
- Be proactive on occupational safety and health related matters so that working people of Ghana work in safe environments
- Specify the rights and duties of employers and workers with respect to occupational safety and health
- Ensure that an adequate and appropriate system of inspection for the workplaces is in place and is provided with adequate means.
- Strengthen the agencies responsible for ensuring safe working environments in the country.
In conclusion, Trade Unions and other Civil Society Organisations (CSO), who have over the period fought for the rights of workers, have been vindicated as the world struggles to curtail the effect of the COVID 19 pandemic. This outbreak serves as a clarion call to the government and other stakeholders for immediate steps to protect the working people of Ghana across all sectors of the economy.
Government must thus put in place measures to ensure compliance of existing OSHE policies in the lacuna of ratifying ILO convention 155, while it resource and empower key institutions like the Labour Department to conduct a consistent, extensive and comprehensive labour inspection across all sectors in Ghana.
>>>The writer is the General Secretary of GAWU. Author can be reached on 0244529484, [email protected]