Feature Article of Thursday, 15 June 2006

Columnist: Coleman, Casely Ato

A Season Of Strikes In Ghana. A Rapid Analysis


This article will attempt a rapid analysis of the recent spate of strikes in Ghana. For purposes of this discussion, we will define the period from February 2006 to June 2006 as the ?season of strikes? in Ghana?s industrial relations history under the NPP. The paper will define what constitutes a strike from a legal, philosophical and conceptual framework. The paper will also recap the issues and analyze them within the above framework. It will then offer suggestions on how to address the issues in a sustainable manner within the context of public sector industrial relations and public policy. It will review the Teachers & Education Workers Union(TEWU), Ghana Medical Association(GMA) and allied health workers group (HWG) strikes.

The Industrial Relations Act 2003 Act 651

Under the Act essential services includes persons working in an area where an action can lead to particular or total loss of life or pose a danger to public health safety. Under section 163, such workers are prohibited from going on strike.(see Page 58 of Labour Act). The Act defines a strike as any action by two or more workers acting in concert which is intended by them to restrict in any way the service they normally provide to the employer or diminish the output of such service with a view to applying coercive pressure upon the employer.(Section 174,page 64).

The Act also defines under what circumstances a strike can be permitted. In general it indicates that where the parties fail to agree to refer a dispute to voluntary arbitration or the dispute remains unresolved at the end of the arbitration proceedings, either party intending to strike or institute a lock out shall give written notice of intention to the other party and the commission within 7 days. A party who gives such a notice to resort to strike may do so only after the expiration of the 7 days from the date of notice and not at any time before the end of that notice.

If the issue remains unresolved after commencement of strike/lockout the dispute shall be settled by compulsory arbitration. Under compulsory arbitration the National Labour Commission(NLC) will define the issues and serve them with the due notices with a request from parties if they are in agreement with the definition of the issues. Within 14 days after service of notice the NLC shall determine the dispute. A compulsory arbitration is then constitutes and is made up of members each from government, employers association, and organized labour. The decision of the majority shall be binding and this body has the powers of a high court.

A strike is legal if it is in line with the above processes. If not it will be illegal and participation in an illegal strike can be the basis for termination without notice or may forfeit remuneration for period of engagement in strike. In the same vein employer who results to an illegal lockout shall pay the employee for that period. Sections 162-163 defines the period within a labour dispute within an essential services should be addressed.

In three separate researches that this author did on industrial relations in Ghana, the data has shown that there are numerous reasons why Ghanaian workers embark on strikes, one of which is on perceived unfairness and lack of equity in determining working conditions.(Coleman 1993, 1996, 1997)

The Psycho- Philosophical Context

Equity in employment relations simply means fairness in the determination, administration, monitoring and evaluation of terms and conditions of service. The process for formulating policy on compensation and benefits must be done with due consideration of distributive justice. Distributive justice simply means that in defining what is reasonable compensation and benefits(C&B), the employer looks at the input(I) that is the what, when and how the employee adds value into the task/job process), the output(O), that is the results of his/her input in terms of services, and the outcome(O1) which is the impact of the combination of I & O in qualitative and quantitative terms from an efficiency and effectiveness value for money perspective. In that regard studies in industrial psychology have shown that workers compare their C&B with that of equivalent or similar referents or others who have the same qualifications and work conditions. If they realize that their C&B is lower than their equivalent referents, then they feel relatively deprived and become dissatisfied. This is called the relative deprivation theory and it is derived from perceptions of inequity and unfairness.(Adamd 1965, Adams &Friedman 1975, Ekeh, 1975, Folger 1977, Friedman & Goodman 1967, Lawler 1968, Lerner 1974). It is one of the major factors that explains the underlining basis of some of the strikes in Ghana.

Collective Action

Strikes are also defined as collective actions where people are mobilized to stop work and in some cases demonstrate en-masse. During collective actions, two types of psycho-political processes occur. One aspect of collective action is defined as consensus mobilization where union leaders or management leaders define the issues in a way to obtain common understanding and commitment from their members. It is to ?ideologically charge them into action? and is the foundation block before moving to stage two that is action mobilization. Successful strikes are preceded by effective consensus mobilization. Action mobilization is where after securing the ?ideological commitment? of members, the clarion call is made for physical demonstration of action through collective work stoppages, picketing and demonstrations.

Collective Bargaining

Collective bargaining involves negotiations between two or three parties for example between employers and workers or their representatives (such as unions) to determine substantive rules(compensation and benefits) and procedural rules(due processes and procedures for resolving disagreements). In industrial relations, the state through government also participates both as an employer or as a regulator or referee between management and labour. A key purpose of collective bargaining is to protect the interests of the parties by entering into an agreement.(Coleman 6th June 2006 posted on Ghanaweb. An agreement reached through collective bargaining process, is reduced into writing and is called a collective agreement.

The paper will like to briefly share some findings of an ongoing study that the writer is doing on comparative industrial relations in Africa which will be published in September.

In terms of legal enforceability, in Ghana and Senegal collective agreements are legally enforceable while in Uganda it is voluntary. With regards to the terms of duration of collective agreements, in Senegal it is generally permanent until parties agree to revise it and a collective agreement which is of a fixed term cannot normally be more than five years In Ghana, the minimum duration of a collective agreement is one year as per Article 107 page 39 of the act.

During collective bargaining, three types of ?psychological formulas? are at play. The first formula is called the current demand and this is usually the first stage where the parties announce their ?first demand?. Current demands(CD) are for strategic purposes, often a bit exaggeratory and is intended to begin the negotiation like the typical situation when one visits the Makola market. The second formula is called the level of aspiration(LOA). This is a rate where the parties are actually looking at securing ?at the back of their minds?. A good bargainer can right from the current demand, estimate the LOA and then use that to negotiate effectively. The third formula is called the bargainers limit(BL). This is the minimum point below which a negotiator will not compromise.(Hogan 1996, Allen & Stephenson 1983, Brown 1984). For example in one study this writer did during a standing joint negotiating committee meeting over the determination of yearly bonus in the mining sector, the union began by demanding a 100% of gross monthly salary. Management then counter offered with 25%. After further negotiations, the union moved to 65% and indicated they will not take any thing below that. The Management countered with 33%. Finally both parties ended up at 42% and the issue was resolved.

Defining Grievances

In industrial relations the parties aim at protecting their interests. This can result in conflicts. A grievance can be explained as any difference between parties in respect of any matter involving the interpretation or application of the collective agreement, employment rules in relation to general working conditions. In industrial relations, a distinction is made between two types of grievance. One is a complaint or a difference involving an individual worker or group of workers. The other is a difference between the union and the employer. In other situations, a distinction is drawn between disputes over rights (over the application or interpretation of provisions of collective agreements or labour laws) and disputes over interests. (i.e. those arising in connection with the renewal or conclusion of a collective agreement and the provisions to be agreed upon).

Political Environment and Collective Action

In a study on Government and Labour Relations 1982-1992 (Coleman 1993), the research indicated that workers under a government which is perceived as populist and pro-worker use collective action as a frequent strategy in collective bargaining because the political environment is seen as ideal for such actions. In a subsequent study that focused on two case studies of industrial disputes, the same conclusion was reached(Coleman 1996). When related to the current strike season, one can also hypothesize that by virtue of the 1992 constitution of Ghana which permits individual freedoms of association and speech, collective action is seen as a right granted by the current political dispensation.

Application with empirical examples

The Case of TEWU

In February, the NLC directed the sector ministry to take immediate steps to enter into negotiations with TEWU about its concerns to forestall any industrial action. TEWU?s demand was for the government to give the mandate to the Conference of Polytechnic Principals (COPP) to negotiate with it in respect of Collective Bargaining Agreement for employees of Polytechnics that expired since January 2004. Government had granted the mandate for negotiations to the Universities, West African Examination Council (WAEC), and the Ghana Education Service (GES) all members of TEWU excluding the Polytechnics. In due course their General Secretary urged its members in various Polytechnics to suspend their sit-down strike. He explained that further industrial action "will make us loose public sympathy".(GNA posted on Ghanaweb 16 February 2006). Within the framework of our conceptual framework, they felt relatively deprived and unfairly treated compared to their referents groups. The initial action of suspending the action can also be defined as an example of the need to build solid consensus mobilization and coalition in order to win support before embarking on effective collective action.

It then warned that they would "advise" themselves if their salary arrears are not paid by close of work on June 16, this year. At this stage, one could observe a widening of the definition of the issues from a dispute over procedure(mandate for negotiations) into a dispute over substance(salary arrears).

TEWU later declared an indefinite strike action to press its demands for better conditions of service. Its reasons included the inactions of GES and the NLC. The NLC later intervened and directed the GES to convene the Standing Negotiating Committee on TEWU' to address the nationwide strike of the Union. The NLC intervened and directed TEWU to immediately call-off the nationwide strike action, citing the act which says that negotiations cannot be held at any time when an industrial action was ongoing.

TEWU counter-argued that they needed a negotiating partner with a clear mandate and challenged GES Management to prove that it had the mandate to negotiate. It also made a demand of a 40 per cent salary increase and explained that the 20 per cent salary increase by Government was the basis on which TEWU was negotiating for a higher percentage for its members. Other issues related to the end of service benefits, risk allowance, responsibility allowance. etc. GES intervened and said that although they did not have the mandate to negotiate, the could discuss still the issues raised and then refer the outcome to the sector ministries of finance and manpower. GES Management also pleaded that due to high management turn over, the new Management needed time to understand the issues properly.

At the time of writing this paper the issue was still pending however irrespective of the outcome of this dispute it reveals the need for employers to provide enough mandate to their representatives in collective bargaining to ensure legitimacy and credibility to facilitate the negotiation process. The reasons cited by the GES on the lack of enough information due to high senior management turnover is also indicative of the need to have a robust retention policies to halt this situation. The argument over the lack of mandate, also shows the lack of clear institutional leadership in determining who has the mandate to make commitments on behalf of government in public sector industrial relations. Is it the technical manager(sector ministry for employment) or the budget manager( the sector ministry for finance). The ?demand? formula of TEWU also highlights the different strategic bargaining approaches and their concerns bothered on substantive as well as procedural rules in employment relations.

Case of GMA & HWG

The GMA dispute initially begun with agitation over payment of feeding fees by junior workers. Some reasons adduced were that some of the doctors, worked between 24 hours and 36 hours continuously and did not have time to eat, which was not good for their health. They said countless efforts to get Management to resolve the issues had gone unheeded.(GNA posted on Ghanweb 27th February 2006).

Management counter-argued that it was illegal for the doctors to embark on the strike action as stipulated in section 161 of the New Labour Law and cited their 10 days vacation without permission clause and threatened to apply it which will warrant summary dismissal. Junior doctors at the Koforidua Regional Hospital then withdrew their services to back their demands for the payment of five months' salary arrears and said they would restore their services only when their salary arrears are paid in full.

In an interesting development, doctors at the two government hospitals in the Tamale Metropolis did not join the strike action arguing that they were on contract and paid directly by the hospital and did not have any outstanding issue with the authorities. This reason was found to be very revealing since it raises the issue as to whether there were different terms and conditions for different workers in different regions. This situation was later explained by the GMA leadership who said their constitution allowed divisions to take certain decisions and actions without resort to the national executive. (GNA posted on Ghanaweb 5th June 2006).

This we contend is an example of intra union management flexibility and autonomy. However the question as to whether this can potentially prevent industrial action or create lack of a unified and cohesive union front and the impact on bargaining strength has to be investigated further. In any case their argument that the GMA was negotiating with the government on their behalf seem to suggest that intra-union flexibility with clear definition of the mandate of the central union can potentially reduce mass action once members allow the leadership the space and time to reach agreement. We also assert that probably this was an example of a possible lack of total consensus mobilization on the issue of total work withdrawal. It can also be counter-argued that perhaps, they were simply following good reasoning to allow for the due processes as defined by the labor act for fear of the applicable sanctions that could be applied it there was a breach. Further still one can say that perhaps it was due to their behavioral commitment to their Hippocratic oath. In any case one can now understand why the framers of the labour act defined health workers as essential services and barred them from going on strikes. The enforcement of the act is another issue which will be discussed in the conclusion.

In view of persistent public pressure and in order not to break their front, the GMA met and voted by 170 to 28 votes to continue their strike.(Graphic posted on Ghanaweb 6th June 2006). This explains why the president upon persistent pressure from the government and public to order his members to stop the action, he indicated that once a collective decision had been agreed upon in a democratic manner he as the leader could not reverse it until the same process was used to reverse it.

Another example of intra-union democracy in line with the Labour act that gives unions the right to organize their affairs in an effective manner to promote due process in labour relations.

The GMA then went on a public relations and sustained communication offensive and said that their members were worried about the health of patients but were of the view that a hungry and worried doctor could not offer the best of care to a patient. They argued that since patients were now suing doctors for negligence, it was better to adopt preventive measures to secure their own future. Another evidence of consensus mobilization and strategic definition of the issues to win public support.

The Management of GHS, then appealed to the junior doctors to call-off their strike action with an assurance that the government was taking measures to solve their problems. These were unpaid new salaries plus two months arrears of the Additional Duty Hours Allowance (ADHA), in June. Management then gave a background to the dispute, and said following the problems that arose with the ADHA, a decision was taken to seek the services of a foreign consultant to "re-look" the salary of the health sector.

A job evaluation was then conducted with the involvement of all health professional groups culminating in a draft report that was disseminated to the various associations. Management said the HWG comprising all other professional groups apart from doctors took the issue to the National Labour Commission, which called for an independent committee to evaluate the job profiles to grade the salary structure

For the HWG, it was wrong to identify the medical officers' bands in the summary of the banded jobs as 6,7, 8a, 8b/8c, 8d and 9 when the bands in pay scale 1, which was proposed for director-generals, chief executives, medical officers and directors at the board level and their equivalents in the ministry, was identified as A1, A, B and C; while pay scale 2, proposed for nursing, allied health professionals and directly employed public health sector staff, was identified as 1 to 9. The Government and Hospital Pharmacists Association also argued that the government had been selective in instituting a good salary structure for health workers. Their opinion was that the new salary structure which sought to consolidate the Additional Duty Hours Allowance (ADHA) had distortions, saying ?the gap between the doctors, on one hand, and the nurses and paramedical staff, on the other, was very big?. They said the salary of the paramedical staff was low and that the gap between the doctors and other medical staff should be bridged in the future.(Graphic posted on Ghanaweb 27th April 2006, GNA posted on Ghanaweb 6th June2006, GHP posted on Ghanaweb 7th June 2006) .

This was the basis of their strike.

In reviewing the complaint the NLC panel observed that the report relied on the principle of equal pay for equal work, a persuasive argument which although reasonable, was not legally binding for enforcement by any adjudicating body like the NLC, since it had not been made part of the laws of Ghana, in accordance with Article 75 of the 1992 Constitution.

The panel directed the consultant to list for future use and to be embodied in the report the 'additional soft factors' that were not part of the job evaluation weighting scheme but had been weighted in favour of medical officers, placing them outside the 1-9 band identification and thereby undermining the report in the eyes of the Health Workers' Group. It said although parties acknowledged the relevance of such premium in the health sector, the view of the workers' groups was that the resultant gap generated between the salaries of the doctors and the other groups by the use of the 'additional soft factors' was unacceptable.

The NLC panel also decided that the workers' groups were right in pointing out that medical officers who were put in the same band with other professionals should have received almost equal pay, bearing in mind the job evaluation scores of the consultant. It also recommended to the government to constitute an independent negotiating committee in future negotiations to avert protracted industrial dispute resulting from the mistrust of the Negotiation Committee by other clinical and health staff.(Graphic posted on Ghanaweb 21st April 2006 At the time of writing this paper the government has called for a meeting to resolve the issues. (Myjoyonline 9th June 2006).

In a very ominous sign, the Civil Servants' Association of Ghana(CSA) have called on the Government to employ fairness and equity when dealing with salaries of public servants. It said the Government had tended to listen more to some categories of health workers to the detriment of other health workers and the general public sector workers.

They argue that there was already dissatisfaction in the entire public service especially among Civil Servants about the inequities in the salary administration adding that this had only been "temporarily put on ice" and cited the entry point of a graduate in the Ghana Education Service was level 14 while level nine was the entry point in the Civil Service. The CSA also point out that to single out health workers for special treatment was to worsen the already volatile situation. In said it was "watching these developments with eagle eye" and would 'act appropriately' if it felt cheated by their common employer.(Myjoyonline 10th June 2006).

Concluding Observations

The substantive crux of the GMA?s concerns relates to the payment of adequate compensation and benefits in a timely manner. The complains of the allied HWG illustrates the inadequacy of a wholesale adoption of foreign labour relations principles and practices without considering the overall macro and organizational context. The report of the foreign consultant was not adequately suitable to the context of Ghana? industrial relations system and it is very significant that the NLC asserted this fact. Thirdly the issue of equity, distributive justice and relative deprivation are issue that have to be analyzed in order to provide sustainable solutions. The latest warning from the CSA falls within this framework.

From a comparative analytical perspective, there is some similarity with TEWU because in both examples the issues either begun with either procedural or substantive issues and then as the dispute progressed they were linked together to strengthen their bargaining positions. In both cases Management attempted to invoke threats but they did not work. The research also observed the scathing public criticism of the NLC in their handling of the disputes. This paper believes given the fact that the Labour Act is barely 3 years old, it is necessary that actors in industrial relations give the commission time to gradually assert itself. This limited research has also shown the need for parties to create trust and demonstrate goodwill during collective bargaining processes.

There is also need for more sensitization on the labour laws and not a rigid interpretation of the clauses by the NLC. With education and internalization gradually compliance will gradually become institutionalized. It is also important to resource NLC with high caliber and well qualified staff well grounded in industrial relations theory, research and practice. They then should be given continuius training to reinforce on a continuous basis their skills to keep abreast in development in industrial relations. A solid research gathering, monitoring and evaluation unit will strengthen the capacity of the NLC to ensure that early warning signs of possible industrial conflicts are detected in good time and addressed. This should be reinforced with the required logistics.

Rampant industrial conflicts and strikes has a huge impact on public sector effectiveness and efficiency. This also affects the implementation of public policies. The government should not under-estimate the impact of such strikes in social and political-economic terms. Strikes discourages investment.

One significant observation this research made was that at no point during the strikes was there a clear attempt by the political parties to politicize the issues and possibly link them to recent political demonstrations over fuel increases etc. Perhaps it was because the issues were purely technical and industrial relations specific hence the tension was purely on substantive labor matters. However if it is also a sign of political maturity by the other political parties, then that is a source of hope for the country. The paper?s position is that if due diligence and care is not taken to address industrial relations related issues, this will seriously affect the government?s human resources development agenda and slow down the path to economic growth. An environment of rampant strikes is also a fertile ground for political instability. Clearly there is a link between peaceful industrial relations and economic growth.

This paper has attempted to analyze the resent strikes from a purely industrial relations system conceptual perspective. It has done so, mindful of the fact that, perhaps some other equally important variables may have been left out or not discussed. We hope that further studies will be done to provide more insights into the phenomenon of strikes in Ghana

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.