The Supreme Court (SC) by a majority decision of three-two, on Wednesday ruled that the Customs, Excise and Preventive Service (CEPS) has the constitutional mandate to belong to a union.
The court held that, even though the Labour Act 2003, Act 561, and Article 24 of the 1992 Constitution, exclude Security Agencies from joining Trade Unions, the constitutional interpretation exempts CEPS, because the nature of its functions (collection of taxes), does not make it a real security agency like the Army, the Police and the Prison Services.
For this reason, the majority decision of the SC upheld CEPS’ application brought before it for constitutional interpretation of both the Labour Act and Article 24 of the Constitution, and ruled that it has the constitutional mandate to join any labour union of its choice.
The three Judges, who held the majority view, were Mr Justice Julius Ansah, Mr Justice Jones Dotse and Mr Justice Aning Yeboah, while the dissenters were Mr Justice William Atuguba and Mrs Justice Sophia Adinyira.
The majority decision held that even though Article 24 of the Constitution enjoins workers to join trade unions of their choice to promote their economic and social rights and interests, and puts restrictions on security agencies, by the very nature of its functions, CEPS should not be prevented from unionizing.
The majority decision further stated that the constitutional interpretation of the Labour Act makes CEPS a non-security agency, and not until the law-makers amended the laws, CEPS could not be said to be part of the security services.
The dissenters held that like the other security services or agencies, the Labour Act does not cover CEPS, and for that matter, it has no constitutional mandate to belong to a Trade Union.
The refusal of the National Labour Commission (NLC) to grant CEPS the right and licence to belong to a Trade Union when it applied for one, necessitated the latter’s action against the Commission at the SC for constitutional interpretation of the Labour Act and the Constitution.
As the mouthpiece of the government on constitutional matters, the Attorney-General was joined to the suit, while the Public Services Workers’ Union (PSWU), which had previously been engaged in a legal tussle with CEPS over unionization, was an interested party to the suit.
Mr Fiifi Yankson appeared for CEPS; Mrs Effiba Amihere represented NLC; Mr Philip Addison was counsel for PSWU (interested party); while Mrs Amma Jantuah, a Chief State Attorney, stood in for the Attorney-General.