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Beyond the 9 to 5 in an informal economy

Oct. 15

By: Carolyn Thompson



ACCRA - The trotro was full but I didn’t want to wait.

It can take half an hour for the minibuses to fill up with passengers heading to my neighbourhood on Accra’s east side from the bustling Nkrumah Circle, the city centre.

We all laughed as I squeezed onto the rickety metal seat at the back of the bus, squishing beside the trotro’s “mate” – the worker who collects fares and calls the bus stops.

“Oyiwaladoong,” I said. Thank you.

He laughed at my accent. As the trotro bumped along Ring Road, halting unsteadily and frequently with the busy traffic, Benjamin told me his story.

Benjamin used to work as an administrator in an office, but he was let go when a new manager took over. He told me finding a job is hard in Ghana. It’s even harder to find a 9 to 5, Monday to Friday job in an office or for a company.

After searching for a bit, he said his only choice was to work as a trotro mate.

Benjamin is one of more than four in five Ghanaians who are working in jobs in the “informal private sector.” The number comes from a report compiled by the Ghana Statistical Institute using 2010 census data.

Only about 7 per cent of Ghanaians work in jobs in the “formal private sector” – those are jobs with an official employer, with regulated hours, with a salary, with structure. Another 8 per cent work for the government.

Most people, just like Benjamin, work informally instead.

They run shops along streets in Accra, managing their time and earning money by profiting from sales. They drive taxis or trotros, often rising early in the morning, with some working holidays and weekends. They sell pineapples or buns or fabric or colas on the street, scurrying between cars while the light is red and scattering when it turns green.

For those workers, many government regulations about employment are meaningless. Ghana’s minimum wage is GHC 5.24, about $2.60 an hour in Canadian currency. But it doesn’t apply to informal workers.

As well, the United States’ 2010 Human Rights Report on Ghana found that the minimum wage level for the formal sector was not enough to provide a decent standard of living.

“There was widespread violation of the minimum wage law in the formal sector, and there was no official minimum wage for the growing informal labor force,” the report said. “The law sets the maximum work week at 40 hours, with a break of at least 48 consecutive hours every seven days. Workers were entitled to at least 15 working days’ leave with full pay in a calendar year of continuous service or after having worked at least 200 days in a particular year. However, such provisions apply neither to task workers or domestic workers in private homes, nor elsewhere in the informal sector.”

In our Apaapa neighbourhood, even on weekends and national holidays, Olooti Street is still quietly bustling with shopkeepers who can’t afford to shut the doors, and pineapple vendors who hope a few people will come by to make a purchase.

We’ve made friends with a family at a nearby home, who sell pineapples, nuts, peppers, and water. Every day I say hello to “Princess Diana” and Grandma.

Although Ghana’s constitution outlines working rights clearly, Diana and her family and Benjamin don’t see how it applies to them.

“Every person has the right to work under satisfactory, safe and healthy conditions, and shall receive equal pay for equal work without distinction of any kind,” says the Constitution. “Every worker shall be assured of rest, leisure and reasonable limitation of working hours and periods of holidays with pay, as well as remuneration for public holidays.”

But for informal workers like Benjamin and Princess Diana, that’s just not a reality yet.



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