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Africa

Ghanaian worker put in chains by Italian supervisor

Ghana's labor unions have expressed outrage over the 'dehumanizing' treatment of Ghanaian workers, especially of those working for foreign companies. The unions are calling for harsh penalties for offending employers.

Ibrahim Sanou, 27, was chained by the neck to a container by his Italian supervisor, Manlio Maggiorotto, for allegedly failing to complete a job-related task on time. The victim pleaded with the supervisor to release him, but in vain. He had to wait 50 minutes before his workmates eventually came and rescued him.

Sanou had to endure this ordeal under a burning hot sun. "The time he was putting the chain on my neck I asked him to stop, he didn't listen to me. He got a padlock and tied me to the container and locked me there," Sanou said.

Ibrahim Sanou, who works for Gateway Logistics in the Free Zone Enclave in Western Ghana, was traumatized by the experience and is considering quitting his job. "I am not comfortable. Seeing the chain, it's like something is wrong with me," Sanou told DW. "I don't know why he did that to me," he added.

Ghanaian labor rights groups have expressed outrage at what they call the dehumanizing and shameful treatment of Ibrahim Sanou. They consider the punishment imposed on him by his supervisor as an affront to the fundamental human rights of local workers. The General Transport, Petroleum and Chemical Workers Union have called for the intervention of Ghana's national security agency so that the Italian supervisor can be apprehended and brought to justice. According to the union's industrial relations officer, Richard Hanson, the Ghanaian government will have to exercise its powers to protect its citizens if such abuses are to stop. "We need to have this Italian back to our country to face the law. We are asking the director himself apologize to Ghanaians," he said. Hanson was referring to the Ghanaian manager of the company which brought the Italian supervisor to Ghana in the first place.

Francis Sallah

Labor rights activist Francis Sallah says investors need to be told Ghana will not tolerate the abuse of workers

Calls for protection

One of the problems facing the Ghanaian labor market is the absence of reliable unemployment figures. But Ghanaians still can be heard complaining about the lack of jobs. Some may have to put up with poorer and poorer working conditions just to remain in employment. In privately owned companies, there is often no labor union available to which an aggrieved employee could turn.

According to a survey undertaken by the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (ICU) in Ghana, many foreign employers have been abusing their Ghanaian employees. The General Secretary of the ICU, Solomon Kotei, said the Chinese, Lebanese and Indian companies were worst abusers and many workers had no written contracts with their employers.

"Most of them are not even given letters of employment to state what their situation is," he said.

Labor rights activist Francis Sallah said Sanou's case shows that a lot needs to be done to improve working conditions in Ghana. There have been similar abuses in the past and they have gone unpunished. "I think there should be clear-cut policies. The laws should be spelt out to investors explaining that, yes, Ghanaians will welcome you, but abuses will not be tolerated," Sallah said.

The country's trade minister and other government officials say they are investigating Sanou's case.

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