Accra, Ghana

IMPACT: Market Vendors and Traders

In 2013, Ghana’s Ga East Municipal Assembly began a project that represents a major step forward for Ghanaian market vendors and traders: construction on a market and lorry park in Abokobi that was designed through dialogue between the municipality and the Ga East Traders Union. This dialogue – an essential component in ensuring vendors’ occupational health and safety needs are met – would not have been possible without the determination of vendor leaders, their efforts to organize, educate, and empower other vendors, and the collective efforts of NGOs, unions, and WIEGO. WIEGO’s efforts included facilitating dialogues between vendors and government officials and leading workshops for vendors that dealt with topics from governmental responsibilities in terms of environment and occupational health and safety to hygiene to small business management. Because of these dialogues and workshops, vendors reported increased confidence in their ability to organize and effectively engage with local authorities. As vendor participation in the Abokobi market planning process shows, successful engagement leads to better workplaces for vendors and traders – the market, for example, has bath and toilet facilities, both of which are key to increased market sanitation.


fish vendorAccra’s market vendors and traders are part of the fabric of the city; they provide affordable and accessible goods and services to citizens, and, according to the Auditor General’s Performance Report of 2003, contribute on average 20 per cent of the internally generated funds of the Greater Accra Metropolitan Area (AMA). Vendors and traders are also part of the city’s sizeable informal economy – over 73 per cent of workers AMA are part of the informal sector. According to the city’s two main traders unions, the Ga East Traders’ Union (GETU) and the Makola Market Traders’ Union (MMTU), their membership includes traders of a wide range of items. Women, who constitute about 70 per cent of the membership, are more prominent in the sale of food such as vegetables, grains, legumes, fish, and other related items like utensils, charcoal, provisions, etc. They also make up the majority of food vendors. Historically cloths, especially African prints, were the domain of women, but with the advent of second-hand clothing, men have become involved in the wholesale process. Skilled artisans such as hairdressers, carpenters, tailors, and seamstresses are also included in the unions’ membership.

Like other workers in the informal economy, Accra’s traders and vendors have traditionally faced low earnings and long working hours. They have no or low levels of education, little access to social and legal protection, and low levels of organization or unionization. More than half of the workers in the informal sector earn below the legislated national minimum wage.[1] They face exposure to high economic and financial risks (e.g., high interest, inflation and exchange rates), job insecurity, unsafe and unhygienic working conditions, harassment from local authorities, and lack of access to credit.[2] They also lack involvement in national and local policy-making despite Ghana’s constitutional imperative that “to ensure the accountability of local government authorities, people in particular local government areas shall, as far as practicable, be afforded the opportunity to participate effectively in their governance.” (1992 Constitution, Chapter 20, Article 240 (2e))

Vendors and traders also do not see services directed back towards them even though they pay dues, license fees and income tax. This revenue supplements the central government’s District Assembly Common Fund (DACF), from which local governments receive funding. The revenue is seen as money meant for development in general, but not for providing services to traders and vendors or for improving their working conditions. As Anas Ibrahim Hille of the Makola Market Trader’s Union says, this diversion of revenue represents “the failure of institutions that are meant to be at [traders’ and vendors’] service.”

Just as informal workers in Ghana do not experience adequate service provision, they also do not experience adequate policy and enforcement in terms of occupational health and safety. For instance, the National Health Insurance Scheme (2003) focuses on curative rather than preventative healthcare for Ghanaians. Preventative healthcare is of utmost importance to informal workers, whose operations and working conditions expose them to numerous health and safety risks. Bylaws governing environmental health and sanitation are therefore necessary to complement the NHIS, but many local governments have still not adopted such bylaws. And while the AMA has integrated environmental health into its 1995 bylaws, smaller local government authorities, which have responsibility for other parts of Accra, may have environmental health officers who operate without clear guidelines with regards to what they are meant to be enforcing.

Together, these factors – lack of communication, lack of adequate services, and lack of sufficiently implemented and regulated health and sanitation bylaws – result in traders and vendors facing many occupational health and safety risks every day. Poor drainage and waste disposal in markets leads to clogged drains and gutters, which become breeding grounds for disease. Markets have frequent fire outbreaks from electrical faults, open fires, and smouldering ashes. The lack of fire extinguishers, fire hydrants, and the difficulty fire services have in accessing markets make fires hard to fight. The presence of criminals affects traders’ physical security as does harassment from local government officials, which can lead to physical abuse and imprisonment.

WIEGO’s Role in the Story

The Ga East Traders’ Union and the Makola Market Traders’ Union have been mobilizing market vendors and traders towards collective action since 1999 and 2003 respectively, but their initial objectives were more reactive (fighting authorities when members were attacked and aiding those who lost their wares) rather than proactive. In order to learn how to effect greater change, WIEGO conducted a study to shed light on occupational health and safety risks faced by traders and vendors, which concluded that underlying and governance challenges needed to be addressed first. Pressure from above and below would be needed, but traders and vendors would need adequate information for bottom-up change to be effective.

Together with the Institute for Local Government Studies (ILGS), WIEGO ran a series of workshops for traders on a wide range of topics: the structure of and relationships with local government authorities; the responsibilities of local governments in occupational health and safety and environmental and public health; advocacy skills and planning; networking and alliance building; leadership and public speaking; influence and negotiation skills; media relations; strategic planning; and basic bookkeeping and record services.

WIEGO and ILGS also organized dialogue sessions between the traders and service providers and government authorities. One local government financial expert had in-depth discussions with traders on how to deal with the Ghana Revenue authorities in relation to income tax and VAT. Other dialogues brought in a local Chief Budget Officer, officers from the National Board for Small-Scale Enterprises, the Ghana Revenue Authority, the AMA, the NHIS, the Informal Sector of Social Security, and the National Insurance Trust.

sv-makola-market-accra-ghanaWhile working with the traders to increase their capacity to exert pressure from the bottom, WIEGO was also working with key institutions such as the ILGS and the GTUC to exert pressure from the top. The choice of these two institutions was strategic. ILGS is an institute for training the staff of the Local Government Service and conducts research into local government issues. It is therefore well-positioned to work with WIEGO in the capacity building of and to take the findings of this partnership further by bringing the importance and need of the informal sector to local government. The GTUC, of which the GETU and the MMTU are affiliate members, is well-positioned to support the traders in their struggle for recognition and for safe and healthy working conditions. With support from WIEGO, the GTUC began forming a Council of Informal Workers Association (CIWA) with nine other informal workers’ associations, which will become a national union under GTUC’s umbrella. With WIEGO’s help, the GTUC also began researching and analyzing the labour laws, AMA bylaws and other laws and policies that impinge on Accra’s informal workers, namely street vendors, head porters, and domestic workers. The GTUC used these findings to engage with city officials and five judges, who agreed that appalling injustice is being dealt out to informal workers. This engagement convinced the GTUC that the only way to get authorities like the AMA or the judiciary to be proactive towards amending the laws in favour of informal workers is through intensive stakeholder engagements.

As a result of these initiatives, traders and vendors now believe they must proactively pursue improvements in their working conditions and their standard of living. Other outcomes of their efforts and the support from WIEGO come in tangible and intangible forms. Participants in the workshop and dialogue session facilitated by WIEGO and the ILGS attest to an increase in personal confidence, assertiveness, and ability to talk in public forums without fear of authorities. They speak of better awareness with regards to health and safety issues such as personal hygiene, the importance of registering with the NHIS, and how to douse small fires with a wet jute sack before they get out of control. The sessions on basic bookkeeping, financial management and credit have enabled them to improve on their savings. Now, they are able to differentiate their capital from profit and therefore only spend from the latter. They are also now aware of the dangers of micro-credit schemes, which often attract high interest rates and eat into profits and capital. Moreover, by reducing unnecessary expenditure and putting the resulting savings (no matter how small) in the bank, traders and vendors have less need for such unfavourable credits.

The series of workshops and the dialogue sessions with the city authorities and service providers has reinforced the importance of mobilization, networking, coalitions, and direct representation in the local government structures, which has motivated the formation of CIWA. Further, vendors and traders have realized that if their voices are to be heard and their needs addressed, they need direct representation in local government structures. Two members of GETU stood for election in the 2010 Local Government Election and now hold seats on sub-committees.

City authorities are responding more positively to the traders’ unions. The GETU has been invited to dialogue sessions by local authorities and to local events and, through dialogues, have participated in the planning process for the Abokobi market and lorry park. MMTU executives have, through dialogue, persuaded city authorities to construct a market for street vendors – the Pedestrian shopping mall at Kwame Nkrumah Circle. The union has also purchased fire extinguishers so traders can quickly react to fires in the area.

For its part, WIEGO will continue to build on these successes. In 2014, it entered into a new partnership with the People’s Dialogue on Human Settlement, a community-based NGO that works in alliance with the Ghana Federation of the Urban Poor, a network of savings groups in slums, informal settlements, and depressed communities across Ghana. This one-year project partnership will implement the Local Economic Development-Led Forum, which is meant to strengthen the existing work WIEGO has been doing with the market traders and street vendors and to continue the forums and platforms it has created for engaging city authorities and planners. In addition, the partnership will link up the Ghana Federation of the Urban Poor with informal trading networks, creating a much louder voice around the issues of the informal sector.

[1] This is taken from a Powerpoint presentation by Dr. Yaw Baah, Deputy Secretary General Ghana TUC, from the LOFTF/West Africa Partners Regional Meeting in Lome in September 2011.

[2] Osei-Boateng, C and Ampratwum, E, The Informal Sector in Ghana, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, October 2011.