It is often said in Ghana that a stick of broom is easy to be broken but the broom is impossible to be broken. That is, in unity lies strength. It is this in mind that human beings with their individual vulnerability and frailty come together to form unions, associations or groups.
In institutions and at work places, the rights of individuals must be protected and this protection of rights is efficiently done by the formation of unions or associations.
The drafters of the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana, realising the fundamental nature of this concept provided in Article 21(1) All persons shall have the right to –
(e) freedom of association, which shall include freedom to form or join trade unions or other associations, national or international, for the protection of their interest;
Article 37 also provides that
(2) The State shall enact appropriate laws to ensure –
(a) the enjoyment of rights of effective participation in development processes including rights of people to form their own associations free from state interference and to use them to promote and protect their interests in relation to development processes, rights of access to agencies and officials of the State necessary in order to realise effective participation in development processes; freedom to form organizations to engage in self-help and income generating projects; and freedom to raise funds to support those activities;
Effectively, it is the fundamental human right of individuals to form any association at all to protect their rights and promote their interests. But this association is highly voluntary and not by compulsion as has been held by the Supreme Court of Ghana in the Mensima case.
Having determined the fundamental nature of unions, associations or groups, the next question is this:
Is the Union a Lawyer or a Judge?
As we all know, Judges judge. They determine which of the parties’ stories is more probable to be true on the preponderance of the probabilities in civil litigations.
For criminal cases, the judge makes a determination as to whether the prosecution has proved its case beyond reasonable doubt and that the defence or the accused has not been able to raise any reasonable doubt. Then, the judge passes the necessary sentence which ranges from fines to terms of imprisonment or otherwise he acquits and discharges the accused.
Even though in Common Law jurisdictions, it is lawyers that become judges, the roles of lawyers are fundamentally different from judges. A lawyer is also called Counsel or Advocate.
As a counsel, the lawyer advises her client. The lawyer advises the client in bad situations as well as in good situations. When the client is found at the wrong side of the law, the lawyer advises the client. When the client is on the good side of the law, the lawyer advises her.
As an advocate, the lawyer speaks for the client in court, labour commission, CHRAJ and so on. The lawyer represents or negotiates for his client. These are a few things lawyers do.
Looking at the roles of the Judge and the Lawyer and reading the Constitutional provisions that say that individuals form unions for the protection of rights and promotion of interests, it is very obvious what a union is- a Lawyer or a Judge.
The union is a lawyer. She stands by her members come what may. The union speaks for her members whether good or bad. The union cannot be judgemental and choose which members or which issues she will speak about.
Like a lawyer, the union must stand by her member until the member is locked up in prison. Even with that, the union’s work is not over. She must go on appeal until there is no other option left for her just like lawyers do.
Union executives must therefore get this understanding and be up to the task in their advocacy and counsel roles for most of the members are vulnerable for which reason they join unions.
Any time you think of a union, remember the role of Jesus in the trial of the lady who was caught in the act of prostitution. Jesus did not condemn; he counseled the lady- go and sin no more. That is the work of the union.
Nana Gyasi, a Unionist