The main legislation governing Industrial Relations or employment matters in Ghana is the Labour Act 2003, (Act 651). This Act came into force several years after Ghana gained independence in 1957. Before the promulgation of Act 651, the Industrial Relations Act (1960) Act 299 and few other related labour regulations governed Labour Relations.
Under the repealed Act 299, the Labour Department under the Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare was in charge of managing and settling Industrial Relations disputes in Ghana. However, under Act 651 that duty is now the prerogative of the National Labour Commission (NLC). Act 651 is a consensus document because it is a negotiated law where there was give and take by the Social Partners in Labour Relations.
The Social Partners comprise of government as an employer, organized labour and employers organizations. The Act also brought a new face to labour management relations in Ghana, and combines industrial relations and industrial laws as well as good practices which have evolved over the years into one common statute.
One crucial aspect of the law is the fact that it applies to all workers as well as employers with the exception of the Ghana Armed Forces, Police Service, Prison Service and other security and Intelligence Agencies provided for under the Security and Intelligence Agencies Act 1996 (Act 526). Customs Excise and Preventive Service (CEPS) is also excluded by reason of a Supreme Court decision.
The employer who hires the service of a worker is required to fulfill some rights and obligations within the employment relationship in order to ensure that both parties co-exist in a peaceful and harmonious working environment.
While Section 8 of Act 651 outlines the rights of the employer among others as to employ a worker, discipline, transfer, promote and terminate the employment of the worker, Section 9 imposes some duties or obligations on the employer such as to provide work and appropriate raw materials, machinery, equipment and tools, pay agreed remuneration per the contract of employment, take all practical steps to ensure the worker is free from risk and injury, develop human resources through capacity building, furnish the worker with a copy of a contract of the employment and also protect the interest of the workers.
The law further provides in Sections 12 and 13 for the need for employers to furnish employees with written contract of employment and particulars within two months of engagement.
Basically the document is intended to outline the conditions of employment which also includes the right to negotiate wages and salaries, right to annual leave, right to a reasonable notice of termination of contract, grounds for termination, dismissal, and redundancy among others.
Again, the contract of employment serves as a guide to regulate the employment relationship, and will become the reference document in the event that industrial disputes.
Business operators in Ghana therefore need to be familiar with the Labour Act 2003, (Act 651) in order to promote a harmonious industrial atmosphere for national development.
Ten (10) years after the promulgation of the Labour Act 2003, (Act 651) to enhance industrial relations practice in Ghana. The questions complainants mostly pose to the National Labour Commission is whether or not the employer is apprised of its obligations under the law, and if indeed the employer is informed about his/her duties as contained in the law, how come they continue to breach agreements reached between the parties at the time of the employment relationship engagement processes.
It is important to state that for every business starter, the employment relationship commences the moment an offer of employment is made and an acceptance is given. A contract of employment can be verbal or written. Once there is a working relationship, there is an agreement, and this agreement should be respected by the parties.
Unfortunately, it is evident from the NLC’s records that most entrepreneurs irrespective of their nationality, startup businesses in Ghana without being conversant with the Labour Act 2003, (Act 651), the Law that regulates employer-employee relationships in the country. This lack of knowledge often leads entrepreneurs to engage in illegal work practices.
Interestingly, when complaints are filed against such employers, the employer denies any form of employment relationship since in most cases such workers are paid on the “table top” and not through the formal means. Again, such workers are denied their SSNIT contributions, thus jeopardizing their retirement benefits.
It has also been revealed over the years that employees who demand for contracts of employment are victimized at the workplace, and sometimes suffer from termination, threat of termination, resignation and redundancy, among others.
It is therefore important that employers and employees appreciate their relationship as a partnership intended to achieve mutual interests and not one for which one party is out to take undue advantage of the other since a harmonious work place leads to high productivity and increased wages. And one way to achieve this is for both employers and workers to arm themselves with the provisions of the Labour Act 2003, (Act 651) that pertains to them.