Need for clearer meaning of decent work, Ghana’s context
I had a complete change of mind about the actual meaning of decent and indecent work after attending a workshop organised by ActionAid Ghana (AAG) in July this year.
AAG is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that provides and also advocates for support of basic needs and rights of the poor with emphasis on human rights, especially of women and children and their right to education.
I understood after the sensitisation workshop that decent work means a productive work whereby rights of employees are protected for generation of adequate income, with social protection. In other words, it could be defined as sufficient work in the sense of having full access to income earning opportunities.
Furthermore, per the explanation of AAG decent work, marks the high road of economic and social development in which employment income and social protection can be achieved without compromising workers’ rights and social standards.
Considering what over the years has been happening in many Ghanaian homes, it can be argued on the basis of the explanations above that the perception of the general public about the subject really thrives on ignorance.
This is because some parents and guardians tend to push their children and wards to pursue tertiary courses with the intention that such academic programmes or professional disciplines have high remuneration in practice and thus give practitioners relatively strong financial power to enable them to take the family’s socio-economic responsibility.
Nonetheless many a time, some choices of programmes to let students to work in related particular professional disciplines on completion might not be naturally their preferred choices, but through families’ persuasion on the basis of monetary consideration.
Ultimately, such persons would realise they have chosen the wrong profession, and lacking the required love for the job and the expected job-satisfaction. The reality now is to find themselves in a very desperate situation.
This writer’s research about the issue resulted to an interaction with Madam Serwaah Akoto, a professionally-trained teacher in a second cycle institution who narrated her story about how she switched from being a professional nurse to the teaching profession.
As for Mad. Akoto, the teaching job is more decent work for her than when she was working as a nurse. She recounted monetary gains influenced her to enter the nursing profession and was posted to work in one of the reputable government hospitals in the country after her training.
But “soon I regretted because I always found myself on a hospital bed receiving drips due to a state of unconsciousness because I could not stand the sight of a medical team performing a surgery on a patient at the theatre,” she explained.
Mad. Akoto realised she was not destined to be a nurse and therefore proceeded to a College of Education and is now feeling healthy and happily teaching in a Senior High School with even additional responsibility as a House Mistress.
She concluded that she was now in a decent profession giving her job-satisfaction and capable of catering for her children with no more unconsciousness, which could have probably caused the sudden loss of her life.
Another woman, Miss Grace Acheampomaa also shared her experience that her father wanted her to become a professional nurse and thus enrolled her in a university in that sense, but was continuously getting sick and had to be rushed home for medical attention whilst under training.
Miss Acheampomaa said at a point she realised the stress was so much as she could not cope with the pressure associated with the course and finally had to quit the university to pursue business studies in a different institution, saying following that “I am now happily into a big business moving on perfectly in life”.
Health and safety at workplace
It could be observed among some private business establishments that some employers had taken advantage of inadequate placements or vacancies in the job market to abuse and exploit their employees.
This is because such employers calculatedly left especially their unskilled labour force to work under health-threatening conditions as they failed to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to the workers.
The ideal situation is the provision of PPE but sadly enough in some sawmilling and timber processing companies in the country, manual workers allegedly loaded sawn-timber and plywood with bare hands for lack of decent means of survival.
Can one talk of job-satisfaction in this case? Ideally such category of workers should have been provided with complete PPE – helmet, steel-toe (safety) boot, thick hand gloves and high visibility jackets.
Another situation making mockery of decent job and therefore depriving some workers of job-satisfaction is cheating of their working time and wages under-payment.
There are instances whereby some young ladies had to go to bed with employers before securing jobs whiles others suffered unfair dismissal for refusing to succumb to sexual request by some employers.
A Ghana News Agency publication about the World Day celebration of ‘Decent Work’ observed in Accra came with a call on the youth to strive to pursue higher academic laurels, so they could be eligible for decent work.
“If by the age of six you are not in school you are likely to do indecent work all your life,” Dr. Yaw Baah, currently the Secretary-General of the Ghana’s Trades Union Congress (TUC), said when he was addressing workers on the occasion.
The theme for the celebration was “Decent Work for the Youth”.
Dr Baah noted that out of 11 million Ghanaians between the ages of 15 and 60 who were eligible, 10 million were doing indecent work. This, he said, was because those people did not have certificates to enable them to secure decent work.
Dr. Baah pointed out that the youth between the ages of 14 and 25 constituted the bulk of the youth who were parading the streets without decent work.
He therefore appealed to government to pay more attention to “the four pillars of decent work – employment, human rights, social protection and social dialogue”.
At this point, as parents and guardians, families and society, the desire must rather be one of encouraging the youth to be thinking of job satisfaction in any form of employment.
Being in either the public or private sector, the foremost consideration must be the desire and readiness to be able to deliver satisfactorily, output wise. If it was to be self-employment, then job security to secure one’s future livelihood might even be more guaranteed.
That way the four pillars of decent work – employment, human rights, social protection and social dialogue could be achieved.
It is important to state at this juncture that some workers, particularly those within civil service in the public sector are frustrated at their work places because their rights are being infringed upon by their superiors.
But, despite their frustrations, they preferred to be there, all because of a section of the society’s wrong perception of white-collar jobs as more decent than any other job.
At the workshop participants were asked to rate or list number of jobs on a score sheet in accordance with the perception of the general public.
Virtually, every participant wrote health workers, bankers, teachers, traders, truck pushers in that order with the reason that health workers and bankers are well-paid, so they could be said to be in the most decent jobs.
Interestingly, the meaning of decent work had not yet been given to participants and when “it was read, we realised all of us had wrong understanding of the concept because we didn’t know decent work is when the individual has job security with respected and protected rights by his/her employer(s).
Against this background, it could be argued that ‘decent work’ is not necessarily about how big the society rates particular types of jobs but the benefits the worker derives regarding socio-economic sustainability during working years, financial security for future livelihood, impact on state of health among other determinant factors.
If a truck pusher or a hawker, who supposedly could be considered as unskilled workers were able to take care of their families, save towards their future and enjoy enough rest without occupational hazards, but same could not be said of a white-collar job employee, then, it could be concluded that the former is enjoying ‘decent job’.
Now, must parents, guardians and the society in general continuously belittle those doing unskilled jobs for their living? The response arguably could be no.
The society must rather be fighting for the rights of the vulnerable workers to be protected from unfair treatments, manifesting in the payments of meagre wages, verbal abuse, sexual harassments and sometimes unpaid extra working hours because these and other factors potentially could be underlying factors to make vulnerable workers’ socio-economically hopeless and therefore render them paupers at the end of their working lives.