Galvanising the informal sector for development

BY: Enoch Darfah Frimpong

Ghana operates a dual economy, a formal sector and a very large informal one whose members are hardly protected.

Fortunately, the formal sector workers are taken care of by organised labour because the structures exist for doing so. However, their counterparts in the informal sector do not enjoy the support of the system by way of conditions of service and pension.

The present dualised economic system does not enhance our development endeavours, as informal sector workers lack adequate compensation to motivate them to put in their best.

The General Secretary of the Ghana Trades Union Congress (TUC), Mr Kofi Asamoah, has appealed to the government to initiate policies to protect the rights of  informal sector workers.

“Workers in the informal economy are unprotected and confronted daily with the challenge of discrimination. Many of them are subjected to physical abuse by their employers; they have no say in decisions that affect them, such as wages, health and safety at their workplaces,” he said at the third TUC Informal Economy Conference in Accra yesterday.

The report did not make specific mention of workers in the informal sector but the list includes vendors of all kinds of merchandise on the streets and by the roadside, house-helps, artisans and contract workers in private and public organisations who are not covered by collective bargaining agreements.

The TUC has been trying hard to get domestic workers to join unions, so that organised labour can negotiate better conditions of service for that category of workers.

We expect that the Informal Economy Conference that brought together informal sector workers from all the 10 regions will come up with action plans to deal with the growing abuse of the rights of workers in the informal sector.

Our economy is growing but we do not think that the informal sector can be alienated from the system, since the formal sector alone cannot absorb all the employable skills in the system.

Some of these informal sector workers come up against the policies and bye-laws of district, municipal and metropolitan assemblies whenever the assemblies embark on decongestion exercises.

When that happens, it is vendors on the streets and pavements and traders who have erected kiosks at so-called unauthorised places who lose out in the action to maintain order in our cities and towns.

The Daily Graphic expects the local authorities to enforce their laws, but those rules must be applied with a human face to reduce unintended effects.   

There is widespread abuse of informal sector workers because of the lack of a collective voice to fight their cause. But the ball will go back to the court of the TUC to find ways of mobilising informal sector workers to form a strong union or join existing unions to negotiate better working conditions for these casual workers.

The TUC should not just be interested in boosting the membership of organised labour but also build a strong body whose voice and concerns cannot be ignored by employers and local authorities.

We think the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection has a role to seek protection and job security for all workers in the informal sector, especially the vulnerable in society.

The informal sector is very big and has the potential to make a huge significant contribution to the economy, but if it is left to exploitation, it will  remain a sleeping giant and the ills of a dualised economy will continue to afflict us.