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20.06.2005 General News

Gov’t needs ¢153bn for Ghanair staff

By Chronicle

After a protracted negotiation between a government task force and workers of the Ghana Airways (GH) over issues of redundancy, the workers, represented by two divisional unions) of the TUC, have dragged the government to the National Labour Commission (NLC).

The issue will deal with finding ¢150 billion to fund the redundancy package for the 1500 odd workers and the vexed question of who took the decision to order liquidation without considering severance cost The Union Team, requested for mediation/arbitration by the NLC in a letter of June 2, 2005. In another letter, in response to the NLC's letter regarding the Union's preference of “one mediator or a Panel of Mediators to handle the issues,' the Union opted for the former.

This is going to be the real test case for both the Commission and government on employer-employee relations and rights in the country.

The Union had, in their letter to the NLC, stated the deadlocked issues as follows: levels of severance pay; cut off date; outstanding leave; long service award, and employees' salaries.

Levels of severance pay

On the levels of severance pay, the Government Task Force had stuck to two weeks' salary for eight years for pilots, and a one-month salary for ten years for other employees as against the workers' demand for four months salary for each completed year of service across board.

At the meeting between the two parties, held on May 26, the chairman of the government task force, Mr. G. A. Mate Azu, had argued that considering that ¢153 billion would be needed to pay the workers, the union should compromise on their position. The GH Local Union chairman, Mr. I. A. Kuofie, had wanted to know why government had paid 'other government companies' workers, including GNPC's, four months for each year of service as severance, but was refusing to do same for GH workers. GH and GNPC workers, both belong to the same mother union, GTPCWU.

Mr. Mensah had also argued that the national average for the industry must be paid.

Cut-off date

On the cut off date, whereas the government task force is relying on a letter of November 11, 2004 inviting the workers' representatives to a meeting to “initiate negotiations towards an agreed end-of-service settlement (severance pay) for redundant staff of the company,” the Union is insisting that this date did not constitute proper notification, since it is a date that ought to be determined by the parties after agreeing on the levels of redundancy pay.

The Union Team had made several representations to the government negotiating team regarding how improper a redundancy notice given the staff was, and had at one time appealed to the Chief Labour Officer, who advised the government team that the terminal date under the Labour Act, 2003 Act 651, had to be determined at the negotiation.

Chief labour officer advises

In his letter of January 11, 2005 to the government team, copied to all parties, the Chief Labour Officer advised that:

“It is imperative to conclude negotiations and sign a memorandum of understanding as regards redundancy package and the mode of payment.”

In further clarification, the Chief Labour Officer wrote: “It is also important to realize that the cut-off date for termination will be determined during negotiation, which must be captured in the memorandum of understanding before notices of termination could be served on the workers, so that, clearly, they know their entitlements under the redundancy exercise and when these benefits would be paid to them.”

Outstanding leave/long-service award

Whereas the government team had put the burden of written proof on why staff had not taken their due leave, to deserve it being commuted to cash, the Union team had rebutted that staff were granted leave, and therefore the burden rested on management.

The government task force sought to have long service awards shelved, in view of the huge sums to be paid, but the workers would not compromise and argued that since it was part of the workers' conditions of service agreed on with management, it ought to be paid.

The General Secretary of GTPCWU, who had been leading the Union team, at this stage, made it clear that, 'whoever took the decision to close down GH should have thought about labour and the cost of severance pay involved, and therefore the Union did not sympathise with Government. He then made it clear that since the negotiations seem not to be making headway, they resorted to the National Labour Commission.

The Chairman had assured the meeting also that 'the date of closure for GH was yet to be determined, as it was part of the negotiations.' Mr. Mensah, before the meeting ended, appealed to the GTF to pursue the outstanding issues with government, 'to avert any recourse to the National Labour Commission.'

Bad faith

The General Secretary of the GTPCWU, last week accused the GTF of demonstrating bad faith, even as the issues had been laid before the NLC. In a letter of June 15, 2005, the General Secretary stated that even though the GTF had denied any intent of government to liquidate Ghana Airways Limited, when hints were brought to their notice, a letter by the Chief of Staff, Mr. Kwadwo Mpiani, that they had sighted was instructive enough.

In the said letter to the Chairman of the GTF, Mr. Mpiani had stated among other things that,

“The Government Task Force is hereby authorized by Government (the sole shareholder of Ghana Airways Limited) to take all necessary steps to put the airline into formal liquidation.”

Mr. Mensah therefore reminded the government team that the matter was before the NLC for arbitration, and that they must play by the rules.

Meanwhile, the joint negotiating team is schedueld to meet tomorrow .