Ghanaian Construction Labor Relations
The key actors in construction industry employment relations in Ghana are first, the government as the single major client and its state agents with responsibility for policy direction; second, the labor unions, including the Trades Union Congress (TUC); third professional associations and regulatory bodies and fourth, contractors’ and artisans’ associations. The following section discusses the contribution of these actors to labor relations and their relationship to informal labor development.
The main ministries with responsibility for the construction industry in Ghana are the Ministries of Roads and Highways, and Works and Housing. However, many of the aspects of construction lie under the jurisdiction of other ministries.
The Ministry of Education (MoE) is charged with providing relevant education to all Ghanaians to enable them to acquire skills to become literate and productive, to facilitate poverty alleviation and promote socioeconomic growth (Ofori 2017). The MoE states that it is committed to establishing an educational system focused on promoting creativity and problem-solving through the development of academic, technical and vocational programs that will assure labour market readiness.
As the number of tertiary institutions grew, both public and private, three organizations were set up under the MoE for the quality management of the educational and training system (Ofori 2017) - first, the National Council for Tertiary Education, a supervisory body of tertiary education responsible for, among others, considering applications for the introduction of new programs in tertiary institutions and advising on their relevance for national development; second, the National Accreditation Board which, as the quality assurance organization, has the authority to accredit tertiary educational institutions and their programs to contribute to the furtherance of better management of tertiary education and third, the National Board for Professional and Technician Examinations (NABPTEX) which is responsible for formulating and administering schemes of examinations and standards for skill and syllabus competencies for non-university accredited public and private tertiary institutions. NABPTEX organizes Higher National Diploma (HND) examinations in Building Technology; Civil Engineering; Construction Engineering and Management; Electrical/Electronic Engineering; Interior Architecture and Furniture Production; Interior Design and Technology; Mechanical Engineering; Procurement and Logistics Management and Surveying and Geoinformatics.
The Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations (MELR) oversees and coordinates employment opportunities and labor-related interventions
(Ofori 2017). Ir is responsible for the formulation and implementation of policies aimed at creating and promoting decent jobs, and for developing strategies that promote industrial peace and harmony. It resolves labor- related disputes, ensures occupational safety and health and regulates the payment of fair and equitable wages and salaries to employees in all sectors.
The stated policy objectives of the MELR are to promote the goal of full employment and enable all who are willing to work to attain a sustainable livelihood: secure improvement in the productivity of the labor force in order to improve competitiveness and enhance employ- ability so that labor is afforded quality and well-remunerated jobs; provide the fullest possible opportunity to each worker to qualify for and to use skills in a job for which she or he is well-suited; safeguard the basic rights and interests of workers and promote respect for international standards; secure maximum cooperation from, and participation by business, organized labor and other interested parties in decisions on employment policy and stimulate economic growth and development, eradicate poverty and improve the standard of living by minimizing unemployment and under-employment.
The TUC was formed in Ghana in 1945 and the Industrial Relations Act (Act 299) was enacted in 1965. Regulation of the Ghanaian labor market has improved structurally over time with the Labor Act 663 and Act 665 in 2003 setting up the Labor Commission. The Labor Act provides that any two persons have the right to form a union.
The Construction and Building Materials Workers Union was formed in 1954 (Trades Union Congress and Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung 2012), when the union was recognized as the voice of workers in the construction industry, and its main achievement was the set of binding collective agreements which cover conditions of service and terms of employment. It signed the first national agreement in 1959 and was strong during the era of state involvement in construction with the Public Works Department (PWD), the then Ghana National Construction Corporation and the State Construction Corporation (SCC). The situation changed in the 1980s when the government withdrew from direct participation in construction and the SCC collapsed, eliminating a large part of the formal segment of the construction industry. The union has suffered membership decline ever since, due mainly to the disproportionately large share of informal sector workers within the construction industry. Its current challenges include increasing informalization in construction; the spread of individual employment contracts; increasing use of casual, contract and temporary workers and high levels of instability of companies and labor turnover because of delayed payments to contractors. The union runs seminars and workshops for its leaders and activists and set up the Vocational Leadership Centre, providing young workers with employable skills - as in brick laying, masonry, steel bending and steel fixing.
The General Construction, Manufacturing and Quarries Workers’ Union (GCMQWU), formed in 2016, now has over 5,000 members. It has launched campaigns, educational activities and social dialog and is building interest in the union. It cites delays to payments for work done on government projects as a major factor affecting its members. Other concerns are inadequate financial capacity and the need for education and training for its members. It argues that Ghana is facing an acute shortage of workers, with the need being mostly for engineers, plumbers, estimators or quantity surveyors, masons and painters. The union campaigns on occupational health and safety at the workplace and runs events for its members. The GCMQWU, however, organizes workers in businesses which do not necessarily work directly in construction but in allied sectors.
The TUC has traditionally been skeptical of the potential for organization of the informal sector, hoping that it would be phased out if the government focused on increasing formal employment. Informal employment, however, has grown in all sectors of the economy (Osei- Boateng and Ampratwum 2011). The TUC has therefore changed its strategy, introducing initiatives aimed at capacity development in the informal sector. For instance, in 1996 it launched policies to recognize the plight of informal workers and the need for improvement in their working conditions. At its 2012 quadrennial conference, it reaffirmed support for the informal sector by assisting and encouraging the creation of labor unions for these workers.
The TUC has supported the formation of nine unions in the informal sector (albeit none in construction) but the casual and transient nature of employment has been a major challenge. The TUC Secretary General has noted that organizing informal sector workers is not simple; it is expensive and brings little returns (Osei-Boateng and Ampratwum 2011). Some NGOs are also administering initiatives to train and empower informal artisans (some case studies on these are presented below) which compliment these union initiatives.
According to a research officer of the Ghana TUC (interview 2019), improvement in the organization of informal sector workers has become a priority and the Congress is committed to building organization to enable them to benefit from mainstream labor union activities. The TUC pledges that it will continue to do its best to complement the work of its international partners. The research officer stated that
The TUC has been able to put in place a three-tier pension scheme with the third tier for informal workers known as the People’s Pension Trust and desks have been set up in all regional offices of the TUC for this scheme. There is also a social protection department with the focus of securing pension arrangements for informal workers; there is the legal department with a representation on the National Labor Commission where members and even workers outside the union can lodge occupational grievances.
The major problem has been the lack of understanding amongst artisans of how labor unions operate, stemming from the low educational background of most of them, and their lack of trust in the system. Opoku (2018) found that many of the artisans and unskilled workers start their apprenticeship around the age of 15 years. Most of them do not have a high school education and find themselves in construction without any aim to build a sustainable career. Most respondents agreed that construction activity is physically tough and can involve dangerous situations and stress (Opoku 2018), reflecting their occupational challenges.
Professional Institutions and Regulatory Organizations
The professional institutions in Ghana’s construction industry include the Ghana Institute of Architects, the Ghana Institution of Surveyors, the Ghana Institution of Engineering and the Ghana Institute of Planners. New institutions for technicians have emerged recently, including the Institution of Engineering and Technology, Ghana. The Ghana Consulting Engineers Association looks after the interests of the consulting firms and professionals.
There have been efforts to strengthen the regulation of some of the professions in Ghana with the introduction of the Architects’ Registration Council and the Engineers’ Registration Council. Draft Bills for some other professions are also being considered. There has also been a trend of the professional institutions and registration councils to widen their coverage to include technicians and persons with lower-level qualifications.
Contractors' and Artisans' Associations
The two main contractors’ associations in Ghana are the Association of Building and Civil Engineering Contractors and the Association of Road Construction Companies. The Ghana Real Estate Developers Association (GREDA) specializes in housing delivery, especially mass housing. The associations focus on the interests of members in their advocacy. For example, the GREDA members operate mainly in house building targeting the upper and middle class with large-scale schemes (Ahadzie 2016). While they rely on artisans to achieve their business goals, they have done little toward capacity' building and the enhancement of skills in the informal sector.
There have, however, been recent initiatives aimed at harmonizing the intentions of the stakeholders, combining their efforts toward developing the industry (Ofori 2018). The Built Environment Professionals Association (ВЕРА) includes the main professional institutions, whereas the Federation of Construction Contractors of Ghana (FCCG) represents the contractors’ associations. The Ghana Chamber of Construction Industries (GCCI) brings together ВЕРА and FCCG. The other notable groupings of industry stakeholders are the Construction Industry Development Forum, which involves representatives of both public and private sector organizations and the Ghana Institute of Construction.
While the professional institutions and trade associations are playing active roles, they focus primarily on the formal sector. For example, whereas the various professional institutions and trade associations have been given formal representation on a number of boards and ad hoc committees geared toward skills development in the country, they have not placed the pressing issues of informal skills development on the national agenda (Real Estate Journal 2016).
There have been several calls for a construction industry development agency to be established (Ofori 2012; Ofori-Kuragu et al. 2016), but despite government declarations of support, so far not much has happened. Without the construction agency, the industry’s holistic development cannot be realized, including the development of the informal sector (Ofori 2012).
Occupational Health and Safety
Health and safety is a major concern, but there is currently no specific health and safety legislation. The industry depends on sections of the Fabor Act, 663 (2003, part XI); the Factories and Shops Act 328 (1970); the Workmen’s Compensation Act 187 (1987); and sections of the Building Regulations, FI 1630 (1996). The recent 2018 National Building Code contains a number of provisions relating to the safe use of materials and practices on site.
From the 2017 labor survey data (Ghana Statistical Service 2017), the construction industry reported a frequency of occupational injury of 65 per million hours worked (the third highest in Ghana) and an injury incidence rate of 86 injuries per thousand workers (fourth highest). Some 346 days were lost in construction (seventh highest) due to accidents with an average of nine days lost per injury (among the lowest). In the previous 12 months, 27,297 construction workers had occupational injuries (this is not proportionally the highest). The construction safety data are significant and more effort is needed if injuries are to be reduced.