Government’s pay policy implementer, the Fair Wages and Salaries Commission (FWSC), is stirring a debate on the importance of building stronger traditional labour groups as the phenomenon of splinter labour organisations seem to be gaining momentum.
According to the FWSC, many traditional labour unions – including the Trade Unions Congress (TUC) and Ghana National Association of Teachers (GNAT) – over the years have experienced a number of splinters; a development that might not only weaken their front, but also lead to several different negotiations with similar groups on the welfare of their members.
The Commission believes even though their actions fall right within the ambit of the law, the proliferation of splinter labour unions is something that needs some introspection.
Explaining the concern to B&FT, Chief Executive Officer of the FWSC, Dr. Edward Kwapong said: “There is an emerging trend; all traditional unions are suffering from splinter groups. An established union like the Federation of Universities Senior Staff Associations of Ghana (FUSSAG – TUC) has been there for long years, and all of a sudden Senior Staff Associations of Universities in Ghana emerge and they turn out to have bigger numbers; and by the provisions of the law, the union with the bigger number of members is issued with the bargaining certificate.
“This means the certificate of the old union is retrieved and given to a rival group, and this holds some potential for agitation. There is another classic example in the University Teachers Association of Ghana (UTAG) and Technical University Teachers’ Association of Ghana (TUTAG). Government wants them merged for smooth negotiations, but it seems they are not in favour of it.
“The TUC has even had its powers whittled down over the years. The Ghana Federation of Labour was a breakaway group, and now we have the FORUM which has 12 public sector unions coming together. When it comes to the public service, they may have bigger numbers than the TUC – and that might be a worry. Nurses and Midwives, Allied Nurses and all; we need a round-table to listen to the stakeholders and find ways of fusing the unions so that negotiations can be smoothly held.”
Meanwhile, a Labour Analyst, Mohammed Affum, told the paper in an interview that, even though the fear of FWSC is legitimate and the call for a fusion of the splinter unions is a good one, the laws on freedom of association might render the move dead on arrival as it seems to be much ado about nothing.
For him, the major issue that crops up with the growing splinter phenomenon is the unlawful organisation of industrial action by some of the groups. “The laws are clear: you can form a union, but it is only the union with the largest numbers that will be given a bargaining certificate by the Chief Labour Officer to come round the negotiation table.
Sometimes, after things have been agreed you find these splinter labour unions disagreeing and organising demonstrations in breach of the law; meanwhile the union among them with the largest numbers was allowed access to the negotiation table. These strikes are unlawful and it is about time government – which is the biggest public employer – took action against them.
“No one can be prevented from having a union, but once your numbers do not get you the bargaining certificate you need to respect the law. If government is firm and sues these unions and blocks the salaries of their members that engage in unlawful strikes, some sanity will be restored on the labour front.”