The Construction Workforce and Working Conditions

The construction sector is dominated by building, mainly residential works and there are minimal barriers to entry. It is labor intensive and, arguably, technologically inefficient. The workforce is young and overwhelmingly male, with a wide range of skills but a low level of education. Employment is informal and the work is transient with no job security. Health and safety hazards result from inadequate regulation and poor enforcement of the laws (Ahadzie 2016; Ofori 2017).

Data from Ghana’s labor force survey in 2017 indicate that over 316,000 persons were employed in construction (Ghana Statistical

Service 2017), 3.4 percent of Ghana’s total workforce. Only six percent of these workers were female. The survey also showed that of the total employed in construction, 97.7 percent were described as in the ‘informal sector’. The professional workforce consists of architects, engineers of various areas of specialization, quantity surveyors and construction and project managers. The second tier includes clerks of works, site foremen and technicians. These professionals and technicians work in the formal sector of the industry. At the artisanal level and below, the construction labor pool comprises tradesmen (masons, carpenters, steel benders, painters, electricians, plumbers, plant and equipment operators and so on) and unskilled workers (who assist tradesmen on sites who work for contractors and subcontractors and are largely ‘informal’). Increasingly, main contractors tend to avoid employing permanent workers and rely instead on labor-only subcontractors. The construction workforce also includes workers in building materials (such as aggregates, cement, blocks, steel reinforcement, timber, tiles, paints, electrical and plumbing equipment and fittings, and so on) and those who work for plant hire organizations.

Figure 6.1 shows that since 1992 there has been a steady increase in the hourly rate of earnings, indicating that there is an opportunity to use the construction industry to increase income levels of both skilled and unskilled workers in the sector. The housing sector alone is capable of providing stable jobs and income, although there is a shortage of artisans (Kanyenze et al. 2000; UNECA 2002 cited in Debrah 2007: 1075). The skills gap has been described as the biggest challenge facing the survival and competitiveness of the industry.

The construction industry has a poor reputation in many respects, including the employment practices of the companies, the nature of the work and the working conditions, the rewards and risks and the welfare of the workforce. Construction is referred to as a ‘4D’ industry: dirty, dangerous, demanding and demeaning (Construction 21 Steering Committee 1999). In many countries, construction workers tend to work longer hours and are paid less than in other sectors.

A report in 2015 noted that in Ghana 60 percent of youth aged 15-24 years is economically inactive and 16 percent is unemployed (Evanto Resource Ltd. and the Urban Associates Ltd. 2015). The construction industry therefore offers an important opportunity to develop youth employment. However, the same report noted that careers in the industry are unpopular. Females show little interest in construction work owing to the physical nature of the work and the social stigma faced by women in the industry. Males would prefer further education to be able to work in other sectors while construction work was seen as ‘menial’ and physically demanding. The reputation of the industry as an unsafe and unhealthy environment also discourages job applicants. The recommendations in the report include provision of training in identified

Basic hourly wages in construction in Ghana, 1992-2019

Figure 6.1 Basic hourly wages in construction in Ghana, 1992-2019.

Source: Adapted from Ghana Living Standards Survey 2013 (Ghana Statistical Service 2013).

trades where the deficit would be greatest; mainstream promotion and support for gender parity in the industry; establishment of a fund to provide finance on favorable terms to contractors to acquire equipment and the funding of projects and training; the introduction of more streamlined administrative processes and the provision of training in local languages.

An overview of the potential of the informal segment of the construction industry in Ghana is presented in Table 6.2. The demand for better workmanship and changing trends toward new systems and materials such as structural steel, curtain walling, plant and crane operations, scaffolding technology, high-quality finishes, special roof systems and advanced mechanical and electric systems in buildings generate more demand for high levels of expertise. There is also a strong demand for specialization even in the traditional skills of bricklaying, plastering, painting, flooring, tiling, drywall construction, advanced electrical and plumbing systems, steel framing, architectural sheet metal working and building maintenance works. Considering these developments, the informal sector of the construction industry is limited and needs to upscale its technology.

Table 6.2 SWOT analysis of informal labor in the construction industry in Ghana

Strength

Weakness

Opportunities

Threats

  • • Youthful and vibrant labor force
  • • Multi-skilled workers
  • • Free entry and exit
  • • Highly flexible labor force
  • • Technological ingenuity
  • • No defined client and employer
  • • Vulnerability to health and safety hazards
  • • Informal terms of employment
  • • Poor organization of workers in the sector
  • • Low level of education
  • • No legal recognition and also protection from labor laws
  • • Tax burdens
  • • Rule of law
  • • Lack of access to credit
  • • Hours of work
  • • Lack of social security'
  • • The emerging housing needs
  • • Diversity into other related trade/skill
  • • National policies to enhance Technical and Vocational Education Training
  • • Potential for new enterprise
  • • Large pool and opportunity for labor union organization
  • • Skills becoming obsolete
  • • Linguistic and cultural differences
  • • Generational differences
  • • Inappropriate barriers including potential for child labor
  • • Matching with the skills of the predominance of foreign contractors
  • • Changing crafts work environment
  • • Poor occupational hazard and safety'
  • • Poor employment relations
 
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