The Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union (ICU) Ghana has asked the government to urgently fast-track action on the appointment of its two statutory commissioners to the National Labour Commission (NLC), and approve the chairperson of the commission to lighten the overburdened body.
As labour disputes, petitions and complaints are overwhelming the under-resourced NLC, the commission has no commissioners and that is adversely impacting on its too busy activities. Revealing to Goldstreet Business exclusively at the headquarters of the ICU in Accra on Wednesday, Mr Solomon Kotei, the General Secretary of the ICU, said organised labour and employers, two of the social partners of the Tripartite Committee which includes the government, have each submitted the names of two persons to be sworn into office as commissioners. But the major hitch, Mr Kotei said, was that the government is yet to appoint the two persons that the Labour Act (Act 651) of 2003 prescribes for the three partners.
According to him, the tenure of the seven commissioners of the NLC expired in August last year but organised labour and employers are uncomfortably awaiting the government to nominate two persons to form the full complement of the commission. The law also stipulates that the two partners must nominate the chairperson of the NLC for the government to approve. In the absence of the commissioners, the Executive Secretary administers the NLC but he has no power to adjudicate disputes. It is only the commissioners who can delegate their assigns to adjudicate disputes. Thus the Executive Secretary now only engages in mediation, arbitration and conciliation.
He said “what is not helping matters is the ruling of the Supreme Court that all seven commissioners must sit and adjudicate disputes. We at ICU want to draw the attention of the government to the important role of the commission.” Likening the processes and procedures involved in the adjudication of disputes to those of the courts, the General Secretary lamented that the NLC is not represented in the 10 regions. “The additional regions will add to the problem,” he intoned.
He continued: “The commission’s budget has been exhausted. There are times when lights will go off and the commissioners can’t sit. ICU advises the government that what is most critical after health is labour. The unemployment that the government wants to reduce hinges on labour. If government wants to have a sanitised society, then after health we should prioritise labour as number two. Labour is a very important aspect of our economic setting.”
He said the commissioners meet on Wednesday every week and limit themselves to 15 cases, and this exerts an exhaustive toll on them since the clientele of the NLC is the whole of the working class in Ghana. “People have to travel from all over the country to the labour commission to complain of cases of dismissal and others,” he noted.
He said the NLC was allocated GHS1,2000 in the 2017 budget but GHS 700,000 was actually disbursed to the commission. The NLC’s annual budgetary allocation dramatically soared to GHS6 million in 2018, he stated.
Media reports have it that labour unions which seek redress at the NLC may have to get their complaints heard in February as the government is expected to appoint the commissioners by then.
Speaking to the media earlier, Kotei said the backlog of activities was not helping the government, employers and worker. “Labour, employers have been able to send their proposed commissioners but nothing has happened as of now. So from last year till date, it is only reconciliatory works that is being done at the Commission. There are neither the usual mediators nor arbitrators on their job and this is not very healthy because there is pile up,” he stated.
Mr Vincent Ofosu Asamoah, the Executive Secretary of the NLC, said the increased work schedules at the commission await the approval of the government of the chairperson and the two commissioners. “We used to have a backlog of cases but we are dealing with them…that is what we want to look at and if there had been delays in the past, we wouldn’t want that to be repeated in 2018,” Asamoah observed.
He was optimistic the Commission should be operating by the end of this month barring any unforeseen circumstances. “We should be getting the commission set any moment from now; it was my expectation that this has been completed by now. When it comes to the nomination of government’s representatives, the President refers the nomination to the Council of State for advice and that is where I think has led to the delays. But I do not see why we should be looking at end of January and beyond,” he assured.
Mr Austin Gamey, a labour specialist, also stated that the continuous delay may not augur well for anticipated labour issues in the interim though he conceded to some alternative resolution mechanisms. He therefore urged that the process is expedited to get all representatives at work. “The Secretariat is doing their best but I think that the Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations may have to bring this to the attention of the Presidential staffers especially the Chief of Staff so that they can arrange for the President to commission them into office,” he opined.
Section 136 (1) of Act 651 stipulates that “The Commission shall consist of the following persons: (a) a chairperson who shall be nominated by the employers’ organization and organized labour except that where there is failure to nominate a chairperson within sixty days as provided, the employers’ organization in consultation with organized labour shall submit the matter to a mediator agreed on by them; and (b) six representatives, two each nominated by the Government, employer’s organization and organized labour. (2) The chairperson and the other members of the Commission shall be appointed by the President acting in consultation with the Council of State.”
Section 137 provides the qualifications of chairperson and other members of the commission: “A person is qualified to be appointed a member of the Commission if that person (a) does not hold office in a political party; and (b) has knowledge and expertise in labour relations and management, except that in the case of the chairperson, the person shall also be knowledgeable in industrial law.”
Section 138 (1) also mandates the functions and independence of the commission thus: “The functions of the Commission are as follows: (a) to facilitate the settlement of industrial disputes; (b) to settle industrial disputes (c) to investigate labour related complaints, in particular unfair labour practices and take such steps as it considers necessary to prevent labour disputes; (d) to maintain a data base of qualified persons to serve as mediators and arbitrators; (e) to promote effective labour co-operation between labour and management; and (f) to perform any other function conferred on it under this Act or any other enactment. (2) In the exercise of its adjudicating and dispute settlement function, the Commission shall not be subject to the control or direction of any person or authority.”
On the powers of the commission, section 139 (1) states: “ The Commission shall exercise the following powers: (a) Receive complaints from workers, trade unions, and employers, or employers’ organization (i) On industrial disagreement; an (ii) Allegation of infringement of any requirements of this Act and Regulations made under this Act; (b) Require an employer to furnish information and statistics concerning the employment of its workers and the terms and conditions of their employment in a form and manner the Commission considers necessary; and (c) Require a trade union or any workers’ organization to provide such information as the Commission considers necessary’ (d) Notify employers and employers’ organizations or workers and trade unions in cases of contravention of this Act and Regulations made under this Act and direct them to rectify any default or irregularities. (2). Without prejudice to subsection (1), the Commission shall in settling an industrial dispute, have the powers of the High Court in respect of (a). Enforcing the attendance of witness and examining them on oath, affirmation or otherwise. (b). Compelling the production of documents; and (c ) the issue of a commission or request to examine witness abroad. (3)The Commission shall in respect of its proceedings enjoy the same privileges and immunities pertaining to proceedings in the High Court. “
Source: A. Kapini Atafori || goldstreetbusiness