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Opinions of Sunday, 27 November 2016

Columnist: Charlotte Handson

Labour laws in Ghana for the business starter

The main legislation governing industrial relations or employment matters 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Under the repealed Act 299, the Labour Department under the Ministry of Employment and Social Welfare was in charge of managing and settling industrial relations disputes in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 government as an employer, organised labour and employers organisations. 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 fulfil some rights and obligations within the employment relationship in order to ensure that both parties coexist in a peaceful and harmonious working environment.

While section eight outlines the rights of the employer among others as to employ a worker, discipline, transfer, promote and terminate the employment of the worker, section nine 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 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 agree and or negotiate wages and salaries, right to annual leave, right to a reasonable notice of termination of contract, grounds for termination, dismissal, 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 occur either in the court or at the NLC.

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 years after the promulgation of the Labour Act 2003, Act 651, to enhance industrial relations practice in Ghana, the question that complainants have posed to the NLC is whether or not the employer is apprised of his/her obligations under the law. And if indeed the employer is well equipped with his/her duties as contained in the law. How come they continue to breach agreements reached between the parties or offered 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 start up businesses in Ghana and yet are not 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 the wrong side of the law thereby leading to losses.

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 Social Security and National Insuurace Trust (SSNIT) contributions, thus jeopardising their retirement benefits.

Further investigations reveal that those (employees) who demand for contracts of employment may sometimes lead to victimisation which is followed by a termination, threat of termination, resignation, redundancy, among others.

It is 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. A harmonious workplace leads to high productivity and the latter also leads to increased wages.

The writer is a Public Relations Officer, Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations, Accra

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