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Last update: 1 July 2022 h. 10:44
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Bringing women on board

The Trades Union Congress [TUC] – the umbrella workers’ union - has been at the forefront of encouraging women to take leadership positions in trade unions so that concerns of female workers can be effectively articulated.
Santuah Niagia

The TUC formally adopted a gender policy based on the conviction that "the integration of women and achievement of gender equality are matters of human rights and a condition for social justice which should not be seen in isolation as a women's issue." The TUC believes that a gender policy is needed because, owing to the marginalization that women have generally suffered, they need to be treated differently by means of affirmative action in order to achieve greater social justice for all members.

Presently, the TUC has 17 national unions organized along industrial lines with nearly 600,000 members. The TUC of Ghana was formally inaugurated in 1945 when the existing 14 unions registered under the Trades Union Ordinance of 1941 came together under a central coordinating body. Associations of workers for mutual protection had existed in the Gold Coast from about the 1920s, but organized trade union activity is usually dated from 1941 when the Trades Union Ordinance provided for the registration of unions, which could be formed by any five workers. The 1941 Ordinance, however, did not confer bargaining rights on the unions, allowing employers the right to agree or refuse to negotiate with their employees.

It took nearly a quarter of a century, 1969, before the recognition of the invaluable role of women in trade union work was formerly granted. In that year TUC established a women's section and women organizers appointed for the regional offices at Kumasi and Cape Coast, two of Ghana’s regional capitals.

Considerable emphasis has been placed on increasing the involvement of women in decision-making in all the structures of the labour movement. In addition to the women's desk at the TUC, seven national unions have set up women's wings and committees at national as well as regional levels.

Some unions have also appointed women organizers and coordinators, and there is an increasing trend towards assigning negotiating responsibilities to women. Four of the 17 unions under the TUC namely; Public Services Workers’ Union (PSWU), Teachers and Educational Workers Union (TEWU), Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (ICU – the largest trade union), and Public Utilities Workers’ Union (PUWU) - have women on their joint negotiating committees.

The idea is growing that the inclusion of women in the negotiating committees will ensure that the peculiar problems of female employees are taken into account in negotiations. It is expected that all the national unions will embrace the practice of including women in negotiating teams. Various training programmes have been arranged for women organizers as well as rank-and-file members.

The TUC is convinced that grooming female members to assume leadership positions will help raise its image and will strengthen it and the national unions. It is also true, however, that there has been some pressure from the international trade secretariats (ITS), to which some of the unions are affiliated, for unions to include women in decision-making positions. Some ITS are said to have made this a condition for their unions to benefit from programmes which they sponsor. The activities of the women's desk of the TUC have also benefited from considerable financial contributions from international organizations and NGOs.

Progress has been good, steady and but very slow. In spite of the internal efforts and encouragement from outside, to date, women account for only about 10 per cent in total membership of the TUC, which is substantially below women's share of formal sector employment, estimated at about 25 per cent.

Problems identified as militating against women's active involvement in union work include; lack of knowledge about unions on the part of women; difficulty in combining union work with family responsibilities; lack of confidence and unwillingness to compete against men in elections; and preference for men during elections to union offices.

On the last issue, there has recently been a welcome development from an unlikely source. The local union of the Ashanti Goldfields Corporation, which makes up about 40 per cent of the total membership of the Ghana Mine Workers Union, has elected as its secretary a female union member. In the elections, this lady unionist polled 90 per cent of the votes.

Last month, one of the few women in union leadership position, Francisca Borkor-Bortey, Eastern Regional Secretary of the TUC remarked, “the socio-economic conditions in the country require enlightened and knowledgeable labour leaders to spearhead issues for industrial peace and national advancement”.

Notwithstanding the low representation of women in the labour movement, remarkable achievements have been attributed to women unionism. The TUC and its women's section, in collaboration with other women's organizations, have been making efforts to improve the economic and social status of women. A large part of this drive has centered on encouraging the education of women at all levels and countering the social attitudes that tend to give priority to the education of boys.

The TUC emphasizes the importance of educating girls. The TUC has also participated in campaigns to promote the welfare of women in the workplace and in society generally. The women's desk has played a leading role in raising awareness about the problem of sexual harassment at the workplace, and in emphasizing the need for adequate paid maternity leave. The TUC has also been very vocal in condemning violence against women and in calling for stiffer punishment for such crimes as rape.

Meanwhile big issues crowded out concerns about women’s representation at this year's May Day commemoration under the theme "Social Protection and Economic Development." Ghana’s Vice President, Aliu Mahama repeated Government's call for the maximum contribution of all workers, both in private and public sector organisations, to optimize productivity to create wealth.

"We must rededicate ourselves and emulate the examples of the many devoted hard working men and women among us. We must strive to revive the discipline, hard work, a sense of responsibility, dedication and devotion to Mother Ghana, which were the high standards of moral conduct and behaviour of our forebears," said he.

Outspoken TUC Secretary General Kwasi Adu-Amankwah, called workers to unite and work hard to enhance the activities of organized labour, pledged that organised labour would collaborate with Government to implement policies that would enhance workers welfare but warned that TUC would mobilize support to resist any imposition of policies on government by international institutions, particularly the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Deep divisions within the TUC also rocked this year’s celebrations. The Industrial and Commercial Workers Union, [ICU], the biggest union with about 110,000 membership, boycotted the celebrations and threatened to break away from the TUC, a move seen by many as having the potential to seriously grind down the power of the labour movement in Ghana. The ICU General Secretary, Napoleon Kpoh accused the TUC leadership of not showing sufficient determination to resolve a dispute between the ICU and another union.

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