The arrival of neoliberalism—the driving political philosophy several decades ago, culminated into an increasing deficit in decent work especially social protection and social dialogue for working women. This increase in market fundamentalism, market de-regulation of many forms, privatization and the weakening of the state’s role in the labour market led to the growth of fissuring - (new forms of employment) detrimental to women’s access to social prtection & social dialogue in an ‘employer driven’ labour market where conditions of employment are dictated by them. With an increasingly shrinking public sector due to neo-liberal reforms, women employed in the private sector face exploitation and discrimination including being asked to resign upon getting pregnant and to re-apply after child birth.
Understanding the Labour Market
Today, a careful look at trends in the labour market worldwide suggest that it is characterised by outsourcing, subcontracting and casualisation which is a bane on women’s access to social dialogue – a right that helps in guaranteeing all other rights for women’s job and income securities including maternity protection and trade union membership.
The intersectional representations of women differ based on religion, ethnicity, class and otherwise with implications faced in their discrimination and exploitation. Sadly, however, as most workers are oblivious of who their real employers are, some women’s appointments are terminated when pregnant or after childbirth because no employer wants to be responsible for their wages and benefits. This act of social injustice has led to the exit of many women from the formal into the informal economy where their rights are still not guaranteed.
When legislations and policies do not work
Even with the several legislations available to protect women workers in the labour market, they are treated as commodities that can be disposed at will by employers and potential employers. Whiles the 1992 Constitution of Ghana for example in Act 27 guarantees the right to paid maternity leave and establishment of childcare facilities to enable women realise their full potential, the establishment of childcare was conspicuously missing in Part 6 of the Labour Act 651 (2003). Meanwhile, most government agencies lack functioning escalators and childcare facilities to support working and pregnant women. Attaining gender equality and decent work as part of the SDGs requires commitment in the provision of dignified jobs, rights in work, social protection and the ability to engage employers on their conditions of employment. We need to guarantee a labour market devoid of no discrimination with the existence of an equal pay for work of equal value as stipulated in the ratified ILO C100 & C111.
We need to recognize that protecting women from all forms of discrimination due to their reproductive rights is a step towards eradicating child and maternal mortality, poverty eradication and towards the achievement of the SDGs for sustainable development.
Changing the Story
It is also important to recognise in this period of a pandemic that, several international instruments provide enhanced protection for women’s employment security.
Ratifying ILO C181 which extends the right to freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining to workers employed through private employment agencies will safeguard the rights of working women, majority of who are employed through agencies. It is important to ensure that structures that enable women to work like childcare are put in place to complement the call for the ratification of ILO C156 as a measure aimed towards protecting women who mainly have the responsibility of unpaid care work in Africa.
Mobilising and encouraging women to speak up in this time of COVID-19 about all forms of abuses at the workplace through trusted mechanisms are another way of addressing the disparities in the labour market. It is important to ensure that women’s labours are not commodified to make employers directly responsible for their re-productive roles as workers.
Bashiratu Kamal holds a Master’s in Labor and Global Workers Rights with a minor in Adult Education from the Pennsylvania State University, a degree in Human Resource Management, a Diploma in Development Leadership and a Higher National Diploma in Journalism. She holds several certificates in Inclusiveness, Diversity and No discrimination in the World of Work, Youth Leadership, Gender Development, Gender Equality and mutual Gains negotiations, Gender and Organizational Development, she is one of few Gender budgeting and auditors within the Trades Union movement in Ghana trained by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC – Africa). She is a Cohort of the Ghanaian Women’s Social Leadership Program by the Robert F. Wagner Institute of the New York University.
Bashiratu is a feminist who works as a Gender and labour expert with the General Agricultural Workers’ Union (GAWU) of the Trades Union Congress-Ghana (TUC). She spearheaded constitutional amendments of the Union on creating women’s structures to ensure their visibility and integration in the Union and developed the 1st Gender Policy for the Union in 2016. She leads various Union campaigns on the provision of Child Care facilities at the Workplace, strengthening Maternity protection and eliminating violence and sexual harassment at the Workplace.
She was instrumental in the establishment of the National Youth Council of the TUC-Gh and the development of the Gender and Youth policies of the TUC in 2012 and 2016. She led the constitutional amendments of the National Women’s Council of TUC in 2016.