A year ago today, April 6th, His Excellency President John Agyekum Kufuor inaugurated the National Labour Commission with a call on the Commission to be proactive in order to prevent labour disputes and promote labour harmony for national development. As an independent statutory body to facilitate and settle industrial disputes, as well as promote labour-management co-operation, the creation of the Commission was the fulfillment of the cherished desire of the social partners in labour – government, employers and organized labour – that found expression in Section 135 of the Labour Act 2003 (Act 651).
In the course of the year, the Commission has demonstrated that it has a significant contribution to make in the sound management of industrial relations and the entrenchment of the rule of law on the labour-management landscape. The Commission has put in place a programme of action that has positioned it to fulfill its mission “to develop and sustain a peaceful and harmonious industrial relations environment through the use of effective dispute resolution practices, promotion of co-operation among the labour market players and mutual respect for their rights and responsibilities.”
During the period under review, the National Labour Commission has embarked on public education in almost all the regional capitals to sensitize the key stakeholders on the spirit and letter of the provisions of the Labour Law. This reflects the fact that, apart from the Armed Forces, Police Service and Prison Service and other intelligence agencies specified under the Security and Intelligence Agencies Act 1996 (Act 526), the Law applies to all employers and workers and that knowledge of the Law will make compliance easier and enhance harmonious labour-management relations.
No doubt an appreciable level of awareness about the Labour Law has been achieved within the last year. Unfortunately, this awareness has not translated into attitudinal change to result in active compliance with the provisions of the Law.
The spate of illegal strikes and illegal lockouts witnessed during the period is an ample testimony to the fact that some of the stakeholders have still not appreciated the paradigm shift in industrial relations. This lack of commitment by some of the partners to subject themselves to the authority of the Law is a deliberate act of misapplication of the law that the Commission thinks has serious implications for the economy
Of some concern to the Commission are reports of the persistent resistance by some employers to the formation of trade unions at their work places. Through acts of intimidation, they deny their workers their fundamental human right to form or join trade unions of their choice to protect and defend their social and economic interests. The Commission has drawn their attention to this gross violation of the 1992 Constitution, the International Labour Convention No. 87 concerning “Freedom of Association”, which Ghana has ratified and the Labour Act 651. As the National Labour Commission continues its education on the Labour Law, it urges the social partners to complement its efforts by subjecting their peers to a review of their actions that are not consistent with the Labour Law as a way of promoting the rule of law and good governance on the labour scene.
It is a matter of great interest that the Labour Law has ushered in new innovations at the workplace. Some of these are:
§ Pluralism in the formation of trade unions and employers’ organizations
§ The rights and duties of both employers and employees
§ Establishment of Private Employment Centres
§ Provisions relating to temporary, casual and part-time workers
§ Employer to give reasons upon termination
§ Sexual Harassment at the workplace
These innovations if embraced and implemented by all the stakeholders, will contribute to the growth of industrial democracy through the practice of social dialogue.
The Commission summarily settled some of the complaints and also facilitated the settlement of disputes from individual workers, trade unions and employers through mediation and arbitration. Mediation and arbitration under the auspices of the Commission also resulted in settlements that prevented workers’ grievances from degenerating into strikes in a number of enterprises. In view of the increasing volume of petitions received as a result of the growing awareness about the Commission, the staff strength is being augmented to respond accordingly. Regional offices are planned to be opened soon to make the Commission accessible to petitioners in other parts of the country.
No doubt, the Commission faced challenges. On occasions, parties to an agreement reached at negotiations have reneged on the commitments made. This poisoned the industrial relations climate and undermined the promotion of effective labour management co-operation. The Labour Law provides that a party to an industrial dispute shall not resort to a strike or lockout during the period when negotiation, mediation or arbitration proceedings are in progress. Therefore, the willingness of some parties to negotiate during the pendency of illegal strikes and illegal lockouts, not only violated the labour law and undermined the work of the Commission, but also sent wrong signals that illegality pays. For the avoidance of doubt, it is hereby explained that parties to an industrial dispute who have gone on strike regarded as illegal or have locked out the work force illegally are by law obliged to return to work or open the doors to the workers immediately negotiation, mediation or arbitration proceedings start.
As the National Labour Commission enters its second year, it renews its call for the provision of adequate resources to fulfill its mandate. It may be recalled that all the social partners made commitment to a workable labour law during the debate, collaboration and negotiations that gave birth to the Labour Law. We are confident that all the parties will play their respective parts well to make the Labour Law work for the good of our country.