Given the fact that trade unions were born out of bitter struggle resulting in death and disturbances across the entire world there have since been deep-seated perceptions that have bedeviled relationship between Labour and Management.
In Ghana, it has been so intense especially after the overthrow of the first President Dr Kwame Nkrumah. Indeed it suffered a setback in the government.
Employers and workers have been working assiduously to reduce tension following the passage of the Ghana Labour Act 2003, (Act 651), the ADR Act 2010 (Act 798) and also the Pension Act 2010 (Act 766) and their relevant legislative instrument.
It is expected that the tension surrounding Human Resource practice and conflict resolution in the workplace will reduce to a manageable level and also serve as an attraction for investment flows into the country for employment generation and national security.
Unfortunately, however, our tertiary institutions, professional bodies including those engaged in training and development of skills have not positively responded to both the spirit and the letter as contained in these three legislations.
Subject to the provisions of Act 651, a collective agreement relating to the terms and conditions of employment of workers may be concluded between one or more trade unions on the one hand and representatives of one or more employers’ organisation on the other hand. Under section 97 of Act 651, it is expected that employers led by their Human Resource Managers and Industrial Relations practitioners and their various unions will evolve a system and transit from the old adversarial bargaining process to a more acceptable and innovative Interest-Based Negotiation. In the old negotiation process, both unions and management adopt adversarial and exaggerated tactics to outwit each other, sometimes ending without agreement and the meetings become protracted with personality attacks, leaving the main issues of discussion unaddressed. These bargaining usually end with some unlawful strike actions and with either party resorting to the court or National Labour Commission for final determination of their matters.
However, Contract Negotiation as envisaged in the Labour Act 651 calls for a paradigm shift so both management and unions can take practical actions with the set principles and process stipulated for the purpose of the Act.
How can this be achieved?
The law under section 97 states that parties must share relevant information and be open. Section 97(g) set the stage for the parties to write new rules that should govern the negotiation and after that as in the provisions of Section 101(2) which state that: “a standing negotiating committee referred to in subsection (1) shall make rules governing its procedure.”
Section 103(4) also aids the process by reiterating that those rules are made applicable to negotiations conducted in line with the provisions of the Act. These rules have to be based on sound and credible method acceptable by both parties.
When done in line with Act 651, a collective contract negotiation will mean a genuine process to negotiate in good faith collectively on the issues to regulate terms and conditions of employment and work, productivity, remuneration and other benefits including non-employment and dispute resolution based on relevant information sharing and brainstorming.
The new trend also offers a formal system for resolving industrial dispute away from the court as prescribed in sections 108,153,154 and 157 of the Labour Act 2003. In these sections, parties to an industrial dispute are expected to follow strict laid down procedures for negotiation, mediation and a voluntary arbitration when in conflict with their social partners. This must be done with the view that both unions and employers are in a social relationship that does not have to be truncated adversarial actions that will have a leading effect on the organisation.
Following all the above, it is expected that the parties will form a subcommittee under section 103(3) to put together the expectations of the two sides. This means both sides will have an agenda.
Having agreed at the sub-committee level on the agenda, both Labour and Management will now look at their separate interest and then the common interest and submit the report to the plenary session of the Standing Negotiating Committee to enable both sides to confirm the interest and proceed to generating various options that may suit the matters at stake. These options will then be tested by an agreed standard or criteria which outcome will be the result both parties seek.
Power-based relationships should no more be practised in Ghana in line with the new laws transcending from the old trend. The new trend in Labour Management Relationship set a platform for a new way of conversation were both unions and employers see themselves as partners in change and productivity and minimise perennial conflicts that lead to strike actions, boycotts and lockout.