Thursday, 15 June 2017

Brokers in the migration industry in Ghana: The positive side untold

By Emmanuel Quarshie

Despite their significant role in the migration industry, little has been said about the role of brokers. When people do focus on brokers they tend to highlight the unscrupulous behaviours of some recruitment agents. However a wide array of recruitment agencies in Ghana play roles in the management of risks among migrants and are valued as a result. A working paper by the Migrating Out of PovertyResearch Programme Consortium examined the agency role in the migration brokerage for domestic workers in Ghana.

People on the move

The relative importance of the North-South migration in Ghana has gained ground within key policy dialogue in recent times. The surge in the growth rate of Ghana’s informal sector within urban settlements has remained one of the key pull factors compelling young people to migrate from the Northern part of the country to the southern cities. Over the past few decades, the country has experienced admirable economic growth coupled with improvement in infrastructure and larger engagement in the service sector. This, in turn, has tremendously increased women’s participation in the labour force rendering them less able to participate in household production. As a result there has been a renaissance in the already existing industry which trains people (mostly migrants) to take up these abandoned domestic activities.

What do brokers do?

Brokers are key players in the migration process spanning the pre-migration, migration and post-migration periods. Trust and cultural brokerage are central to this, linking the sending and destination communities and managing the migration process. As part of their role brokers reassure the migrant’s family that their ward is in trusted hands with a high level of certainty of acquiring a good job. It is also the duty of the broker to guarantee the employer that all possible damages, time wastage or misconduct will be resolved appropriately. They also serve as guarantors for migrant workers to ensure some level of credibility and trust in their prospective employers. This can be in the form of written or unwritten agreements with a signed memorandum of understanding. As noted by one of the agencies:

“Our girls cannot mistreat our clients’ kids and they also cannot do the same to our girls. Whatever he/she damages, you, the client, should let us know and, if you want her to pay, she will work for it and pay but you cannot mistreat the person because she is your home help. She is not your slave, she is there for you and you are also there for her, so you work together.”

Alex, a broker, said:

“Yes, I am the guarantor for almost all of them and it is very risky; for most of them, it is because I know either their brother or their sister so I am able to guarantee them. With most of the girls I send to work for expatriates, the least thing that happens, I am the first person to be called, so it is very risky and I always pray that nothing bad happens. I always ensure that I talk to them about staying out of trouble, I always tell them I did not take a penny from anyone when they arrived. Instead, I fed them and paid for their transport so they should stay out of trouble. By the grace of God, nothing bad has happened.”

They also work to overcome negative and prejudiced attitudes among prospective employers.  A recruitment agency acknowledged:

“People mostly don’t trust the Ewes [the third-largest ethnic group in Ghana, mainly from the Volta region] partly because of the fear of juju (voodoo). You would be amazed at how many enlightened people will tell you that. Yes, the Ashanti girls are loud and lazy, yeah a lot of people don’t like them… People prefer Fantes, Akuapems, yeah. Central and Western regions. Oh, Akuapems are polite, do you know what I mean?”

Additionally, brokers serve as mediators for bargaining over wages, working conditions, and workers’ rights. Even though brokers can be guilty of influencing workers to accept jobs where the conditions and wages are poor, they importantly serve as an interlocuter for women in vulnerable positions with little education when they need to negotiate the terms of their employment. As stated by Margarette, from Hammani:

“You send somebody to a place and maybe the agreement was that he/she was supposed to stay at work until Friday and go away on weekends but maybe the employer will say ‘I want you to stay Saturday and Sunday’. Then we draw their attention to the fact that, in order for the person to stay on Saturday and Sunday, the employer needs to pay extra to the person. If the person doesn’t agree, the employer can’t force him or her.”

The way forward

Despite the above-mentioned roles of brokers within the migration industry, they have been generally perceived to be illegitimate and unscrupulous in their approaches to mediating between the prospective workers and employers. This is due to the presence of some non-traceable, unregistered and illegal individuals who manoeuvre their ways into the system to exploit the industry to their own advantage at the detriment of their legit cohorts. However, brokers are important elements in migrants’ strategies to exercise agency, which they would probably otherwise struggle with, given the highly unequal power relationships they face at home and also at their work destination with employers. It is therefore imperative to see the need for a more nuanced and more differentiated understanding of the role and the practices of brokers and intermediaries as they navigate the multi-faceted space in the recruitment process for migrant domestic workers. This is especially important as efforts to regulate the domestic work sector in Ghana intensify. 

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