Labour groups have called on the government to expedite the passage of the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) draft policy bill into law.
The bill, which is designed to salvage workers from accidents and deaths, is currently before Cabinet for onward submission to Parliament.
The comprehensive policy bill, which stakeholders described as “very nice”, is yet to attract the attention of the Members of Parliament (MPs) to pass it into law.
The objective of the bill when passed into law is to create a comprehensive national framework for effective coordination and harmonisation of occupational safety and health issues in the country to enhance the well-being of workers.
The Director, Research Projects of the Ghana Employers Association (GEA), Mr Charles Asante-Bempong said the bill when passed into law would strengthen the occupational safety and health-related research and the adoption of modern and cost-effective technology at the workplace.
The law, according to members of the Ghana Employers’ Association (GEA) and the Trades Union Congress (TUC), would protect the livelihood of victims of occupational accidents, injuries and fatalities and their dependents and would also include the informal sector since it contributed about 80 per cent of the country’s labour force.
Ghana not doing enough
Ghana is a member of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the specialised agency of the UN. Its aims are to promote rights at work, encourage decent employment opportunities, enhance social protection and strengthen dialogue on work-related issues.
But the country is yet to ratify the ILO Convention 155 on Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) which provides for the adoption of a coherent national occupational safety and health policy, as well as action to be taken by governments and within enterprises to promote occupational safety and health to improve working conditions.
The ILO Convention 155 entered into force on 11 August 1983 and has been ratified by 60 countries to date. Ghana is yet to ratify it despite many years of pressure from workers, employers and civil society organisations.
Daniel Owusu Boateng, a senior official of the Ghana Trades Union Congress (TUC), and Charles Asante-Bempong, GEA, said it was taking long for the country to get the bill passed into law.
The Business Advocacy Challenge Fund (BUSAC Fund) is supporting the labour organisations’ push for the passage of the Occupational Health and Safety bill into law, which Mr Boateng described as crucial and long overdue to safeguard the safety of workers.
“The policy is still in a draft form. We started the bill process as far back in 2001, but it has still been in the pipeline,” Mr Boateng emphasised.
Fragmented OSH laws
The Director of Policy Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations, Mrs Emma Ofori-Agyemang admitted that Ghana has some laws and policies which regulate OSH issues but they are fragmented and prescriptive.
She said, “There are some laws in place that regulate or point to the fact that we need to pay attention to occupational safety and health.
“The Constitution itself-Article 401- clearly spells out the right and safety of th average worker at the workplace. We also have the Factories, Offices and Shops Act 1970 (328) that points to the regulation of OSH”.
“Indeed, others including the Mining Regulations 1970 LI 665, the Workman Compensation Act of 1987 Act 187, the Radiation Protection Instrument, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Act of 1984 Act 490, all have concern for OSH issues.”
“Furthermore, the Labour Law itself of 2003 Act 625 is the very recent one that regulates or attempts to regulate occupational health safety in this country,” Mrs Ofori-Agyemang stated.
For Mr Asante-Bempong, he sees the current laws for OSH to be limited in scope and very prescriptive, stressing: “The existing laws do not cover the informal sector.”
When asked what the workers knew about their rights at the workplace, he argued cogently that “OSH is a human rights issue, it is the right of the worker and it is enshrined in the 1984 UN Declaration.”
“Now, what will make you enjoy the service condition that you have attained? What will make you have a secure job is when the workplace is hazardous free, risk free and injury free as well.”
Effects of injuries on productivity
“People will not get their job security and productivity will also suffer. As a result, an accident a whole company cannot operate. So, you see OSH makes productivity cost very low. Also, the nation benefits economically”.
He revealed that four per cent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) was spent annually on occupational safety and health issues.
According to ILO statistics, an estimated 2.23 million people die each year from work-related accidents and diseases. Of these, the vast majority – an estimated 2.02 million- die from a wide range of work-related diseases.