A survey by Odekro has exposed the poor working conditions and lax structures surrounding the employment of research assistants for parliamentarians in the country.
In a survey that covered 26 research assistants who were randomly selected from the larger pool, Odekro found that 18 of the respondents (69.2%) were dissatisfied with their work whilst only three said they were satisfied with their job.
This sentiment manifested recently after the research assistants complained about the non-payment of their salaries and threatened to demonstrate in Parliament.
In a letter addressed to the Speaker of Parliament, the research assistants claimed that they had not been paid for the past 11 months.
Odekro held that their conditions of services leave more to be desired.
“The majority of the responses suggest that RAs are not working under satisfactory, safe and healthy work conditions, contrary to Article 24(1) of the 1992 Constitution.”
For remuneration, 11 of the respondents, representing 42.3% said they earned a monthly income between GHc600-GHc1,000; eight (30.8%) of respondents earned between GHc300-GHc500 and two respondents earned upwards of GHc2,000.
Two of the respondents were working on a pro bono basis whilst one respondent earned random allowances.
Though all the research assistants surveyed had been working for their MPs for over three years, 23 of them (88.5%) said they had not signed any employment contract.
Twenty-three of the assistants also said their MPs did not and had never paid their Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT) contributions.
Other key figures
Twenty-five of the respondents were aged between 25-30 years with the others being between 31-40 years.
Gender-wise, 65.4% of the respondents were men whilst 34.6% were women.
73.1% respondents had completed either undergraduate or Diploma levels of education; 11.5% were post-graduate/PhD students; one had completed his PhD; one respondent had reached HND level.
Nineteen started working as Research Assistants to MPs through national service; 2 (7.7%) through political party referrals.
The others started work through a normal job application, community engagements and other means.
Parliament can consider putting up a proper structure to recruit Research Assistants for MPs, Odekro recommended in its report.
It is important to acknowledge that the Parliamentary Service Board has already begun some work in this respect.
Currently to qualify as an MPs' Research Assistant, one must have a minimum of a second degree and the Speaker has directed that appointment letters should only be issued to Research Assistants who meet this requirement.
This baseline requirement might be extreme as there are experienced Research Assistants who might not meet the requirement but have been extremely helpful in enhancing the effectiveness of their MPs and even their electoral fortunes.
A degree or a postgraduate certificate in the specialized fields of economics, history, law, politics and international relations, public administration and social policy may increase one's chances at securing the demanding role of an MP's research assistant. But these qualifications are insufficient to make one fit for and effective in the role. The Parliaments of advanced democracies (such as the UK Parliament) rate work experience and commitment to politics higher than all other considerations including academic qualifications for the job. One advertised vacancy says: the basic task is to do whatever behind-the-scenes work is necessary to enable Members to represent their constituents.
The Parliamentary Service Board can consider setting up competitive education grants for experienced Research Assistants who fall short of the current minimum requirement.
“A standardized job description, employment contract, terms of engagement and working conditions for Research Assistants will also be helpful as pertains in other parliaments across the world.”