On the 31st July, 2019, The Ministry of Labour and Social Security issued a statement containing “directives” on the administration and activities of the SMAWU, including the appointment of an Interim National leadership of the Union for a period of fourteen (14) months, pending the holding of an Elective Conference to be held on a date set by the Ministry, as being September, 2020.
The Ministry in appointing the Union Leadership, alleges that it was exercising its powers as vested on the Commissioner of Labour by section 82 of the Industrial Relations Act No. 1 (2000) as amended.
Intervention or Interference
Section 82 of the Industrial Relations Act does make provision for the Commissioner of Labour to intervene on disputes that are in existence or may arise between “trade unions themselves”. A close reading of the section 82 however does not give the Commissioner of Labour any powers to arbitrate the dispute. Section 82(3) (b) (1) provides that, “If the Commissioner of Labour intervenes in terms of this section, the Commissioner may intervene personally and attempt to resolve or prevent the dispute through Conciliation” (underlines are mine).

The section 82 in its entirety does not give the Commissioner of Labour any powers except for the “attempt to resolve or prevent the dispute through Conciliation”.
The Ministry reported in its statement that, “Conciliation attempts by the Commissioner of Labour could not bear any meaningful results ………..”
Under such circumstances the Commissioner ought to have advised the parties to refer the matter to the Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration Commission. It is not clear how the Commissioner of Labour then concluded that he had powers that are not provided for in any of our labour laws. The Commissioner of Labour misdirected himself completely. What the Ministry purports to have been an intervention process was infact an interference process.
Respect of trade union’s internal democratic processes.
The SMAWU is one of the old trade unions in the Country. It has a very sound, tried and tested constitution that provides for clear and unambiguous internal democratic practices that governs the conduct of the election of the leadership of the Union. The Ministry does not have powers to appoint a Leadership of any union. Union leaders are elected by the members in terms of their constitutions. The Commissioner of Labour cannot set a date for a union Elective Conference as that’s the prerogative of the structures of unions.
The Federation condemns in the strongest terms possible any attempts by the Government to interfere with operations of trade unions. This is a principle position. A trade union is a self-correcting movement, it corrects itself from within like the sea.
We trust the issues currently faced by SMAWU shall be corrected through the Union’s democratic processes.
Violation of International Labour Standards.
The conduct of the Ministry is in complete violation of the Fundamental ILO Conventions. The Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention 87 (1948) of the International Labour Organisation frowns on interference by Public Authorities in the affairs of workers Organizations.

Article 3(1) of Convention 87 dictates that “workers’ and employers’ Organizations shall have the right to draw up their constitutions and rules, to elect their representatives in full freedom to organize their administration and activities and to formulate their programmes”. The Public Authorities in this instance, the Labour Commissioner is warned against interference in the enjoyment of such rights. Article 3 (2) provides as follows, “The Public Authorities shall refrain from any interference which would restrict this right or impede the lawful exercise there-of”

Issued by TUCOSWA Secretariat:
M. C. Gina
Acting Secretary General

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