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General News | Jul 7, 2004

Chinese employers lock up Ghanaian workers

Chronicle

About 100 workers of a plastic manufacturing company in Accra are being virtually holed up in the factory without any safety measures, risking their lives in the event of fire outbreak.

The Chinese owners of the company, Shifa Plastic Ghana Limited, are said to lock up the workshop while production goes on in a poorly ventilated space, hardly sparing the workers time for break or to attend to nature's call.

The employers allegedly keep the keys to the locks while they perambulate around the premises with loaded guns, The Chronicle gathered.

Workers who dare to voice out their grievances or report ill treatment against them are assaulted, according to the dismissed local union chairman, Prince Owusu, who spoke to The Chronicle about their plight.

Mr. Owusu said union leaders who attempted to submit the workers grievances on their poor service conditions, were singled out for punishment that included dismissal and demotion.

He cited a recent case of a sick worker, Jerry Anim who was hit with a hammer on his head by one of the Chinese, identified only as Peter, for taking a nap.

According to him the management conducted an investigation of some sort and concluded that the allegation against Peter was unfounded.

In another instance, a Ghanaian supervisor, Joseph Essuman, was slapped by one of the Chinese for allegedly failing to sanction an engineer who was late in attending to the machines.

He said workers engaged on permanent basis were not given appointment letters, adding that some had worked for about three years without appointment letters.

Only about 15 of the 120 employees, he alleged, had been registered with the Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT).

He accused the Chinese of violating the human rights of the workers by smoking cigarettes in the offices, ignoring the health hazards this could cause to non-smokers with whom they shared offices.

Some of the employers, according to Owusu, did not have both resident and work permit, saying they normally came to Ghana as visitors but stayed on to work in the company. He said the Chinese had adopted dubious ways of dismissing workers whose services they no longer required. They would transfer such a worker to a place he was not familier with and use that as pretext to lay him off without compensation.

He said such worker, Nana Frimpong, a supervisor, informed him that he had been shifted to the grinding department where he was not hired to work. Frimpong said he did not want to go because the sophisticated machines there needed to be manned by an expert.

Owusu said the workers went on strike when negotiations with management over such transfers broke down. However two days after they had called off the strike, Frimpong was dismissed for allegedly organizing the strike.

When the General Manager, Mr. Mike Liu, and the Sales and Marketing Manager, Mr. Forest Yong were contacted, both claimed they could not speak English fluently.

However, the Ghanaian Administrative Manager, Mr. John Kingston confirmed that the workers were always locked in the workshop but insisted that it was not dangerous since the company used state of the arts machines. Besides the one who kept the keys to the locks was always around and the workers could shout to draw his attention in times of fire outbreak or any other mishap.

He, however, agreed that it was inhumane for the workers to be locked up and not allowed to attend nature's call, adding that he had taken up the matter with the Chinese to put an end to that policy.

Mr. Kingston said he was employed three months ago and that he had not witnessed any assault even though he had heard that it used to happen.

He denied that Peter hit Anim with a hammer, adding that he was the investigator and that no one could give evidence to prove that he had been hit with a hammer.

He noted that the workers should not have gone on strike since there was no indication that after the transfer of Nana Frimpong his salary would have been reduced even though some of the workers had faced similar problems.

He said the workers should have waited for a letter to know the conditions of Frimpong's transfer before embarking on the strike action.

On the issue of work and resident permits, Mr. Kingston requested Mr. Yong to respond himself, but he could not produce any evidence.

Rather he retorted, “who told you we don't have permit, my friend go out, we will not talk to you. Do you want the government to close down the company?”

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