Ghana is a constitutional democracy with a strong presidency and a unicameral 275-seat parliament. Presidential and parliamentary elections conducted on December 7 were generally peaceful, and domestic and international observers assessed them to be transparent, inclusive, and credible.
The Ghana Police Service, under the Ministry of the Interior, is responsible for maintaining law and order; however, the military, which reports to the Ministry of Defense, continued to participate in law enforcement activities in a support role, such as by protecting critical infrastructure and by enforcing measures to combat COVID-19. The National Intelligence Bureau handles cases considered critical to state security and answers directly to the Ministry of National Security. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.
Significant human rights issues included: arbitrary or unlawful killings by the government or its agents; cases of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment by the government or its agents; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; serious restrictions on the press, including violence and threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists; serious acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, although rarely enforced; and existence of the worst forms of child labor.
The government took some steps to address corruption and abuse by officials, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government. Impunity remained a problem, however.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the right of workers–except for members of the armed forces, police, the Ghana Prisons Service, and other security and intelligence agency personnel–to form and join unions of their choice without previous authorization or excessive requirements. The law requires trade unions or employers’ organizations to obtain a certificate of registration and be authorized by the chief labor officer, who is an appointed government official. Union leaders reported that fees for the annual renewal of trade union registration and collective bargaining certificates were exorbitant and possibly legally unenforceable.
The law provides for the right to conduct legal strikes but restricts that right for workers who provide “essential services.” Workers in export-processing zones are not subject to these restrictions. The minister of employment and labor relations designated a list of essential services, which included many sectors that fell outside of the essential services definition set by the International Labor Organization (ILO). The list included services carried out by utility companies (water, electricity, etc.), ports and harbors, medical centers, and the Bank of Ghana. These workers have the right to bargain collectively. In these sectors parties to any labor disputes are required to resolve their differences within 72 hours. The right to strike can also be restricted for workers in private enterprises whose services are deemed essential to the survival of the enterprise by a union and an employer. A union may call a legal strike only if the parties fail to agree to refer the dispute to voluntary arbitration or if the dispute remains unresolved at the end of arbitration proceedings.
The law provides a framework for collective bargaining. A union must obtain a collective bargaining certificate from the chief labor officer in order to engage in collective bargaining on behalf of a class of workers. In cases where there are multiple unions in an enterprise, the majority or plurality union would receive the certificate but must consult with or, where appropriate, invite other unions to participate in negotiations. The certificate holder generally includes representatives from the smaller unions. Workers in decision-making or managerial roles are not provided the right to collective bargaining under the law, but they may join unions and enter into labor negotiations with their employers.
The National Labor Commission is a government body with the mandate of requiring employers and unions to comply with labor law. It also serves as a forum for arbitration in labor disputes. The government effectively enforced applicable laws but penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination.
The law allows unions to conduct their activities without interference and provides reinstatement for workers dismissed under unfair pretenses. It protects trade union members and their officers against discrimination if they organize.
The government generally protected the right to form and join independent unions and to conduct legal strikes and bargain collectively, and workers exercised these rights. Although the law makes specified parties liable for violations, specific penalties are not set forth. An employer who resorts to an illegal lockout is required to pay the workers’ wages. Some instances of subtle employer interference in union activities occurred. Many unions did not follow approved processes for dealing with disputes, reportedly due to the perceived unfair and one-sided application of the law against the unions. The process was often long and cumbersome, with employers generally taking action when unions threatened to withdraw their services or declare a strike. The National Labor Commission faced obstacles in enforcing applicable sanctions against both unions and employers, including limited ability to enforce its mandate and insufficient oversight.
Trade unions engaged in collective bargaining for wages and benefits with both private and state-owned enterprises without government interference. No union completed the dispute resolution process involving arbitration, and there were numerous unsanctioned strikes.
Ghana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) workers went on strike in October, halting all domestic flights, to protest the damage of underground cables at the La wireless station in Accra that allegedly threatened flight safety. The union blamed the government’s lease of an Air Navigation Service plot to a flight-training school and resultant construction, despite there being 27 years remaining on the GCAA lease.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The government increased the level of funding and staffing dedicated to combatting human trafficking but did not provide sufficient support to enforce the law fully. The government increased its direct support for protection services for victims of trafficking by training staff and opening and operating a shelter for adult female victims of human trafficking during 2019. The government imposed strict prosecution provisions and penalties. In July authorities sentenced two individuals to 18- and 16-year prison terms for trafficking nine children to work in fishing in Lake Volta; police stated the sentences were the longest that had been issued. Forced labor and trafficking, however, persisted with insufficient investigation and prosecution. NGOs, civil society, and human rights activists reported corruption within police ranks, the justice system, and political authorities that impeded prosecution, with perpetrators accumulating significant wealth from trafficking and forced labor and senior police officers intimidating NGO staff to deter their investigations.
The government imposed strict prosecution provisions and penalties. In July authorities sentenced two individuals to 18- and 16-year prison terms for trafficking nine children to work in fishing in Lake Volta; police stated the sentences were the longest that had been issued. Forced labor and trafficking, however, persisted with insufficient investigation and prosecution. NGOs, civil society, and human rights activists reported corruption within police ranks, the justice system, and political authorities that impeded prosecution, with perpetrators accumulating significant wealth from trafficking and forced labor and senior police officers intimidating NGO staff to deter their investigations.
There were reports of forced labor affecting both children and adults in the fishing sector, as well as forced child labor in informal mining, agriculture, domestic labor, porterage, begging, herding, quarrying, and hawking (see section 7.c.).
Investigations decreased significantly between 2018 and 2019, and suspects were prosecuted using laws with less stringent penalties. Legal counsel encountered difficulties in investigating trafficking and gathering witnesses to testify, especially in cases perpetrated by a family member or involving victims from another country. Due to a lack of training on trafficking, officers did not classify cases as criminal, but issued warnings and freed perpetrators. Police officers who were trained were often sidelined for unknown reasons.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The government did not prohibit all of the worst forms of child labor. The law sets the minimum employment age at 15, or 13 for light work unlikely to be harmful to a child or to affect the child’s attendance at school. The law prohibits night work and certain types of hazardous labor for those younger than 18 and provides for fines and imprisonment for violators. The law allows for children age 15 and older to have an apprenticeship under which craftsmen and employers have the obligation to provide a safe and healthy work environment along with training and tools.
Inspectors from the Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations enforced child labor regulations. Labor inspectors conducted inspections specifically targeting child labor in the informal sector, but the inspections were insufficient to deter child labor, and penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.
The ILO, government representatives, the Trades Union Congress, media, international organizations, and NGOs continued efforts to increase institutional capacity to combat child labor.
The government continued to work closely with NGOs, labor unions, and the cocoa industry to eliminate the worst forms of child labor in the industry. Through these partnerships the government created several community projects, which promoted awareness raising, monitoring, and livelihood improvement.
In 2018 the government approved the National Plan of Action Phase II on the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor (NPA2). The NPA2 aims to reduce the prevalence of the worst forms of child labor to 10 percent by 2021, and specifically targets the cocoa, fishing, and mining sectors. The government continued to take action under the framework of the NPA2. The National Steering Committee on Child Labor, for example, carried out a monitoring exercise in seven districts to ascertain the impact of child labor. The Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare established guidelines for Child Labor Free Zones, and began pre-testing the Ghana Child Labor Monitoring System.
Authorities did not enforce child labor laws effectively or consistently. Law enforcement officials, including judges, police, and labor officials, were sometimes unfamiliar with the provisions of the law that protected children.
Employers subjected children as young as four to forced labor in the agriculture, fishing, and mining industries, including artisanal gold mines, and as domestic laborers, porters, hawkers, and quarry workers. NGOs estimated that almost one-half of trafficked children worked in the Volta Region. Starting in 2019 civil society organizations rescued more than 200 children subjected to forced labor and beatings and denied food, education, and safe living conditions at Lake Volta. In the fishing industry, they engaged in hazardous work, such as diving into deep waters to untangle fishing nets caught on submerged tree roots. The government did not legally recognize working underwater as a form of hazardous work. Officials from the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development received training as part of a strategy to combat child labor and trafficking in the fisheries sector.
Child labor continued to be prevalent in artisanal mining (particularly illegal small-scale mining), fetching firewood, bricklaying, food service and cooking, and collecting fares. Children in small-scale mining reportedly crushed rocks, dug in deep pits, carried heavy loads, operated heavy machinery, sieved stones, and amalgamated gold with mercury.
Child labor occurred in cocoa harvesting. Children engaged in cocoa harvesting often used sharp tools to clear land and collect cocoa pods, carried heavy loads, and were exposed to agrochemicals, including toxic pesticides. The government did not legally recognize this type of work in agriculture, including in cocoa, as hazardous work for children.
Employers often poorly paid and physically abused child laborers, and the children received little or no health care. According to the MICS, one in every five children between the ages of five and 17 is engaged in hazardous working conditions, and there were no significant disparities between boys and girls.
Parents or guardians often facilitated child trafficking by selling their children to relatives or others due to poverty. This was especially prevalent with girls sold into domestic service. The mother of a 12-year-old victim paralyzed from injuries due to forced labor and human trafficking refused to report her daughter’s perpetrators to police because the persons involved were her in-laws, and she suspected police would attempt to collect money from her rather than prosecute.
Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings and the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/reports/child-labor/list-of-goods .
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The government did not effectively enforce prohibitions on discrimination. The law stipulates that an employer cannot discriminate against a person on the basis of several categories, including gender, race, ethnic origin, religion, social or economic status, or disability, whether that person is already employed or seeking employment. Penalties were not commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference. Discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to women, persons with disabilities, HIV-positive persons, and LGBTI persons (see section 6). For example, reports indicated few companies offered reasonable accommodation to employees with disabilities. Many companies ignored or turned down such individuals who applied for jobs. Women in urban centers and those with skills and training encountered little overt bias, but resistance persisted to women entering nontraditional fields and accessing education. There were legal restrictions to women’s employment in the same industries as men, including in factories.
There were not sufficient systems in place to protect women from sexual harassment and other violence in the workplace. Employers often terminated or laid off women who resisted sexual harassment or violence under the guise of restructuring due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
A national tripartite committee composed of representatives of the government, labor, and employers set a minimum wage. The minimum wage exceeded the government’s poverty line. Many companies did not comply with the law. The maximum workweek is 40 hours, with a break of at least 48 consecutive hours every seven days. Workers are entitled to at least 15 working days of leave with full pay in a calendar year of continuous service or after having worked at least 200 days in a particular year. These provisions, however, did not apply to piece workers, domestic workers in private homes, or others working in the informal sector. The law does not prescribe overtime rates and does not prohibit excessive compulsory overtime. Penalties for violations of minimum wage laws were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.
The government sets industry-appropriate occupational safety and health regulations. By law workers can remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. This legislation covers only workers in the formal sector, which employed approximately 10 percent of the labor force. Few workers felt free to exercise this right. Employers were fined in cases of negligence, and penalties for violations of occupational health and safety laws were not commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence.
The Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations was unable to enforce the wage law effectively. The government also did not effectively enforce health and safety regulations, which are set by a range of agencies in the various industries, including the Food and Drugs Authority, Ghana Roads Safety Commission, and Inspectorate Division of the Minerals Commission. The law reportedly provided inadequate coverage to workers due to its fragmentation and limited scope. There was widespread violation of the minimum wage law in the formal economy across all sectors. Authorities did not enforce the minimum wage law in the informal sector. Legislation governing working hours applies to both formal and informal sectors. Employers largely followed the law in the formal sector but widely flouted it in the informal sector, and government did not enforce it.
Three teachers’ unions engaged in nationwide strikes over nonpayment of legacy arrears in December 2019 and in January. The unions reported that the Ghana Education Service failed to respond to three letters demanding information on their payments from 2012 to 2016. The Fair Wages and Salaries Commission also failed to respond to the unions’ request for a meeting to discuss a “collective agreement.”
The government did not employ sufficient labor inspectors to enforce compliance. Inspectors were poorly trained and did not respond to violations effectively. Inspectors did have the authority to make unannounced inspections. Inspectors did not impose sanctions and were unable to provide data as to how many violations they addressed. In most cases inspectors gave advisory warnings to employers, with deadlines for taking corrective action. Penalties were insufficient to enforce compliance.
Approximately 90 percent of the working population was employed in the informal sector, according to the Ghana Statistical Service’s 2015 Labor Force Report, including small to medium-scale businesses such as producers, wholesale and retail traders, and service providers made up of contributing family workers, casual wageworkers, home-based workers, and street vendors. Most of these workers were self-employed.
Accidents in the mining sector were common, often in illegal mining. In a January 2019 mine explosion 16 persons died, and in October, five persons died in the collapse of a pit. Civil society organizations stated that corruption and lax enforcement allowed unsafe illegal mining practices to continue.
In March 2019 the High Court in Accra ordered a mining company to pay more than nine million cedis ($1.7 million) in damages in a case concerning the drowning of an employee in 2015. The court found gross negligence on the part of the company for failing to meet health and safety standards.