Gender Equality Officer for the General Agricultural Workers Union of Trades Union Congress-Ghana.
Since recording cases of the novel coronavirus in March, 2020 there has been a ban on social gatherings, closure of schools and places of worship coupled with instituted partial lockdowns of some areas in Accra, Tema, Kasoa and Kumasi and these lockdown measures were subsequently lifted in April, 2020. Through it all, it has been evident that there is generally a lack of gender responsiveness reflected in policy, programming, planning and implementation of state interventions.
Women constitute 49.1% of Ghana’s population; 46.67% of the labor force according to the world bank, about 90% of the workforce in the informal sector where they are mostly self-employed with about 17.4% waged and salaried workers due to work arrangements that do not mostly support their reproductive and family lives. Most women workers remain more vulnerable to their employers in the wake of this pandemic even with the existence of laws and legislation that protect their reproductive rights. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development “globally, women are more vulnerable to economic shocks wrought by crises such as the coronavirus pandemic” mainly because women’s employment are mostly temporary through agencies and they are more at risk of job losses in times of economic shocks or other crises.
Workplace inequalities despite legal protections
In Ghana, several workplace policies especially in the private sector discriminate against working women, contributing to furthering gender inequalities. These injustices resulted in several advocacies after a leaked memo linked to Reliance - a recruitment agency for Millicom Ghana requested pregnant women to re-apply for their jobs after childbirth surfaced on the internet. Meanwhile, Act 63 (1) (e) of the Labour Act 651 (2003) guards against unfair termination of employment “in the case of a woman worker, due to the pregnancy of the worker or the absence of the worker from work during maternity leave;”
In addition, Act 27 (2) of the 1992 Constitution states that “facilities shall be provided for the care of children below school-going age to enable women, who have the traditional care for children, realize their full potential.” Sadly, not a single government institution has a functional child care facility leaving working women with the unfair choices of either working to earn an income or concentrating on the unpaid care work of building a family.
Recognizing the importance of women’s active participation in the labour market, the framers of the 1992 Constitution in their wisdom inserted provisions on maternity protection in Act 27 (1-3) to relieve women of any economic and social inequalities. In the absence of childcare facilities at workplaces, most women workers have been going through emotional traumas related to the dilemma on the care of their children with schools still closed since the lifting of the partial lockdown. Others have to pay more in cash and in kind (giving out foodstuffs etc.) through special arrangements to get babysitters for their children, an act which increases the risk of mothers, children and babysitters in contracting the virus from one another.
According to Act 55(1) of the Labour Act 651 (2003), “Unless with her consent, an employer shall not (a) assign or employ a pregnant woman worker to do any night work between the hours of ten o’clock in the evening and seven o’clock in the morning;” Meanwhile, some women workers report the introduction of shift systems that do not exempt pregnant women and nursing mothers at their workplaces leaving mothers, children, unborn babies and their families at the risk of being infected by the coronavirus. Many others equally report the refusal of their employers to agree to flexible work arrangements to allow them care for themselves, their children and unborn babies.
Similarly, some pregnant women and nursing mothers report difficulties encountered in attending antenatal and post-natal clinics respectively due to rationing arrangements which sometimes conflicts with their appointment dates further endangering the lives of innocent children and unborn babies. The vulnerabilities of pregnant women and nursing mothers were compounded after reports of an employee infecting over 500 workers in a fish factory in Tema. It is thus important to guarantee flexible working hours and change of tasks for them.
What can be done?
The government of Ghana needs to work on establishing public child care centers through appropriate institutions and as a matter of urgency, provide temporary satellite tents that adhere to all the COVID-19 protocols as child care centers. Employers should commit to establishing child care facilities at their workplaces with trade unions pushing for definite clauses that align with provisions in Act 27(2) in collective agreements.
There should be total enforcement of Act 21 (1) (e) of the 1992 constitution which states on freedom of association for every person to enjoy the “freedom to form or join trade unions or other associations, national or international, for the protection of their interest” to guarantee enhanced workplace protection since trade unions through collective agreements have been noted to expand maternity protections on leave, cash benefits and occupational safety and health while offering representations in instances of exploitation and discrimination.
In furtherance to this, section 79 (1) of the labour Act 651 (2003) also states that; “Every worker has the right to form or join a trade union of his or her choice for the promotion and protection of the worker’s economic and social interests”. There should be consistency in harmonizing all laws and legislation, since provisions in Act 27 (2) of the 1992 constitution are conspicuously missing in the Labour Act 651 (2003) which is mainly used by various stakeholders. Trade unions and women’s groups have a responsibility to ensure its reflection in the on-going review of the Labour Act 651 (2003).