Business News of 2014-03-24

Free Zones workers unable to form union

About 15,000 workers of free zones enterprises (FZE) in Ghana have not been able to form unions or join associations.

Workers in only two companies out of the 240 FZEs in the free zones enclave have been able to unionise since the establishment of the Free Zones Board in 1995, to promote export processing and manufacturing.

These facts are part of a research conducted by the Labour Research and Policy Institute (LRPI) of the Ghana Trades Union Congress (TUC). It follows another research in 2012 that showed the challenges that workers at Blue Skies, a Free Zones company, encountered in their effort to unionise. The issue is now before the courts.

A global trend

The research, entitled. "Mapping of Export Processing Zones in Ghana and Unionisation of Workers," fits into the global action plans of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

The ITUC has documented the fact that about 50 per cent of workers in the global export-processing companies have their rights as workers abused, and Ghana was among the countries identified as a baseline in addressing the challenge.

The research was undertaken by three researchers: The Director of the LRPI, Mr Kwabena Nayarko Atoo, a researcher with the LRPI; Ms Mary Akosua Torgbe, an intern at the LRPI’ and PHD candidate, Ms Nina-Ulbrich.

Ghanaians implicated

Speaking to the Daily Graphic, one of the researchers, Ms Torgbe, revealed that out of the companies in the Free Zones enclave, 30 per cent were wholly Ghanaian-owned, while another 30 per cent were jointly Ghanaian and foreign-owned. Thus, about 60 per cent or more than half of the number of enterprises in the enclave had Ghanaian interests; however, Ghanaian workers were challenged when it came to the enjoyment of their rights.

Ms Torgbe said the study, which began in 2012 and ended in 2013, showed deficiencies in workers’ access to their rights.

Challenges

The challenge, she added, was attributable to the fact that labour unions and the Free Zones Board, which was the authority with oversight responsibility for enterprises established in the enclave were not collaborating in their efforts.

She said with the release of the survey, unions had been engaged and strategies had been shared on how to collaborate more effectively to ensure that workers’ rights were not abused.

A case for rights

Ms Torgbe, in defence of ensuring the rights of workers in the enclave, said unionisation was not only about "bread and butter" issues.

She said it made economic sense if the companies allowed workers to belong to associations so that any issues relating to their work and welfare would be resolved collectively and efficiently.

"We also found in the study that turnover was high in the Free Zones enclave. The Act setting up the enclave stipulates the retention of a one-per cent of revenue to train workers. It does not help, therefore, if you train your workers and they leave," she said.

Ms Torgbe pointed out that allowing the establishment of workers’ unions and associations would ensure the retention of skills and expertise, since issues relating to industrial harmony and the welfare of workers could be resolved comprehensively, and not in isolation or on an ad hoc basis.

The research

The research provides information about the state of organising workers in the country's Free Zones enclave. It also provides the legal context for the formation of trade unions in the enclaves, presenting the practical challenges that workers face in exercising their constitutional rights.

The research showed that most workers in the enclaves were young and unskilful, with most of them being casual or outsourced. It also found that although provisions in the Labour Act (651) and Act 504 guaranteed labour rights, employers in the enclave resisted worker’s enjoyment of these rights, with some employers violating the rights. Apart from working hours which conformed to the labour law, almost all other rights were violated.

Some companies paid their workers below the national daily minimum wage (NDMW), while a number of them did not pay social security on behalf of their workers. Also some female workers in the enclave had no access to toilet facilities, while evidence showed a "comparatively high level of industrial tension."