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10.04.2006 Business & Finance

US Company And Workers in Tug of War

By Public Agenda

From all indications the management of Affiliated Computer Systems, (ACS), a United States data processing company has no intention of allowing employees of the company to unionize to enable them negotiate for better conditions of service.

ACS workers' fight for an association began about five years ago when the aggrieved workers raised the issue of forming a union. Immediately, the Ghanaian management of ACS threatened to fold up and relocate to another country.

Investigations by Public Agenda have revealed that on February 16, 2001 ACS-BPS Employees Association made a formal request to management of ACS for Provider Consult, (GH.) Ltd, an enterprise based employees association to represent workers of ACS on all labour matters.

The request said one percent should be deducted at source from members' salaries monthly, out of which 75% was to be paid to Provider Consult (GH.) Ltd and 25% to the Employees association local account. This was in consonance with section 55(1a) of the Labour Decree, (NLCD 157) of 1967.

The letter stated, "by a copy of this letter we are authorizing our employers to deduct the 1% from each member's salary effective March 2001 and disburse as indicated above. The Chief Labour Officer is accordingly informed of this arrangement." It continued, "Going by this letter, our relationship with your company as regards the formation of the ACS Employees Association is formalized."

ACS management hence sought clarification from the National Labour Department, (NLD) on the above issue. A letter signed by the then Chief Labour officer, E.A. Ntim, granted ACS permission under paragraph 55(1) c and (2) of the Labour Decree, 1967 (NLCD 157) to deduct one per cent at source from the salaries of the staff in respect of association dues.

It states, "I am to inform you that Paragraph 21 (1) e of the Constitution of the Republic of Ghana permits all persons the right to form an association for the protection of their interest. Employees of ACS can therefore form or join an association of their choice."

Inspite of the above provisions, since 2001, management has refused to allow the workers to form an association let, alone embark on negotiations and its correspondent matters.

But under the new Labour Act 651, on union dues, a trade union to which this section applies may issue to the employer of any workers who are members of that trade union, a notice to request the employer to; deduct from the wages of his or her workers covered by a certificate issued under section 99. However, ACS workers argue that management has adopted a strategy to frustrate attempts to introduce trade union activities in the company.

They alleged that management's intimidation often takes the form of arbitrary dismissal of workers who are outspoken.

The 1992 constitution of Ghana guarantees freedom of association, meaning workers do not need permission whatsoever from their employers to exercise such rights.

In addition, Section 79 of the Labour Act, Act 651, states clearly that every worker has the right to form or join a trade union for the protection/promotion of the workers' economic and social interest.

Unfortunately, many workers in Ghana are denied their right to form or join unions, especially by offshore companies or call centers, usually operating in the so-called free zones, where workers are told to sacrifice their rights for the sake of foreign investments.