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Opinions of Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Columnist: Jamila Akweley Okertchiri

Here is not my home!

“There are jobs in the Volta Region for masons like me, but they are not too many. It is the big construction firms that get all the contracts and pay us the masons as they want,” 23-year-old Divine says.

Divine, a mason from Tsitsito in the North Tongu District in the Volta Region of Ghana, migrated to Accra because of poor salaries and low frequency of jobs in the Volta region.

Like many migrants who move from rural areas of the country to the cities, Divine says his family members consented to his migration and gave him their blessings.

“I financed my migration from Tsitsito to Accra. I do not owe anyone in my village. I have a purpose to make enough money and go back so I can start my own business…”

Unlike Divine, other migrants use loans from family members and friends to finance their relocation.

Divine says the intention to stay in Accra permanently or acquire assets in Accra is not part of Divine’s plan.

He considers himself a ‘hustler’ and, therefore, sees Accra as a temporary place, a survivalist strategy to save money and return home.

“I did not come here to spend heavily on food. No way! I have plans to save enough of what I earn so I can go back to Volta Region and establish my own work. Here is not my home,” he says.

Background

In Ghana, both skilled and unskilled migrant workers seek greener pastures in the highly concentrated city of Accra and its sprawling peri-urban areas.

Most of these migrants end up working in the informal and insecure sectors as domestic and construction workers.

Usually, the migrant construction workers are practising craftsmen – masons, carpenters, and steel benders.

A study by Yaro et al (2015) indicates that migrants skilled in construction work spend years perfecting their trade at home before migrating, due mainly to the surplus of crafts persons in their originating communities.

Migrating out of poverty global qualitative study in Ghana also found that the livelihood options in origin areas, though diverse, are of limited benefits to the emerging youth.

The towns and peri-urban areas have limited construction projects mainly provided by the state, the Ghanaian diaspora and residents.

It was also found that the non-farm sector has blossomed but with limited profit margins due to poor purchasing power and low populations.

Given the above local origin context, rural-urban migration for skilled work is encouraged by the entire household.

Migration Incentives

The study further found higher wages in Accra are a major attraction for migrants.

Also, the waiting time for moving between contract jobs is shorter in Accra. Added to this is the fact that the desire for housing – as reflected in the aspiration of the middle classes desire to own houses – drives the demand for the services of construction workers.

Global processes of industrialisation, modernisation and urbanisation also provide the opportunities and conditions for migration.

It also found that migration of skilled workers is encouraged by the entire household as it holds promise for moving them out of poverty.

Reality

Migrants seek jobs wherever they perceive jobs are possible and so did Divine when he arrived in Accra.

He found an opening for a mason with conditions advantageous to the employer but he greed verbally to the offer because it was better than what he was receiving back home.

Masons in the construction industry earn between GH¢ 30-40 a day with workers only paid days worked.

They are not provided with sick pay, except in cases where a worker falls ill on the job and cannot continue for the rest of his/her hours that day.

Construction workers tend to labour throughout the week from 7:30 to 5:00pm, with one day off on a Sunday.

The six-day work regime is used across all categories of construction work and there are high levels of flexibility for the non-formalised sector where the rule is fulfilling one’s contract rather than the time used.

A mason in Accra is expected to lay 100 blocks a day or plaster two walls a day. A good worker is capable of achieving this task in five hours (also called ‘finish and go’).

“I can lay more than 100 blocks a day. Masa, when you start, there is no rest for you. You see the difficulty involved? It is a work for the strong not the weak,” Divine puts it.

Benefits

Recent evidence from a study by Awumbila et al (2014) indicates that evidence of the linkages between urbanisation, rural-urban migration and poverty outcome is mixed.

Although there is a widely held perception – as emphasised in a number of policy documents – that rural-urban migration cannot lead to positive outcomes for migrants, their areas of origin, or destination, the relationship between rural-urban migration and poverty reduction is not adequately understood nor explored.

The findings suggest that, despite living in a harsh environment with little social protection, an overwhelming majority of the migrants believe that their overall well-being has been enhanced by migrating to Accra.

The migrants are also contributing to poverty reduction and human capital development back home through remittances and investments.

“I am able to save enough to send money to my family, back home,” he says.

Policy Implications

The study raised a number of policy issues, including government upgrading of its existing national policy document such as the National Urban Policy Framework, 2012 and Draft Migration Policy.

It states that government needs to recognise rural-urban migration and its impact on urbanisation as inevitable and that policies at the city level continue to discourage rural dwellers from moving to Accra.

Examples of policies that indirectly and directly control migration to cities, the study indicated, is the ‘decongestion exercise’, which has been implemented in the last decades with numerous attempts to provide female potters from northern Ghana with artisanal trade, with the explicit intent of resettling them back to their places of origin.

However, the study noted that the policies are bound to fail, unless spatial inequalities in development are addressed, because – as demonstrated in this study – rural-urban migrants hold the view that despite the harsh conditions of urban life their households are still better off under conditions of migration.

Consequently, slum upgrading becomes an imperative condition requiring urgent attention by the state.

Neglecting informal urban communities would not simply deter rural-urban migrants from settling in these areas, as the existing conditions.