Section 172 of the Labour Act, 2003 (Act 651) provides that
“Where any person fails or refuses to comply with a direction or an order issued by the Commission under this Act the Commission shall make an application to the High Court for an order to compel that person to comply with the direction or order.”
The absurdity in this section of the Labour Act has been exposed by the ongoing court action between the National Labour Commission (NLC) and the University Teachers Association of Ghana (UTAG).
This piece is not going to say which side has a case or which side will win or lose to undermine the dignity of the judicial process. However, this short article is aimed at showing that even though section 172 of Act 651 is still valid and good law, its application in the NLC vrs UTAG matter exposes the absurdity that the drafters of the legislation failed to anticipate.
That is, the NLC is a commission that feuding factions appear before for the adjudication and settlement of their labour disputes. When these factions appear before the NLC, the NLC becomes an independent arbiter. In other words, the NLC is a quasi-judicial body which settles labour disputes. So when the Government of the one part and UTAG of the other part appeared before the National Labour Commission, the Government and UTAG were the adversary parties that appeared before a “judge” or a “court” for redress.
Whenever, the NLC sits, it sits as a quasi-judge. That is, the NLC sits to settle disputes just like the Courts do.
Therefore, the moment the NLC exercises its power under the section of the Labour Act stated above, the NLC seizes to be a “judge” and now becomes an adversary party at the High Court. How can a commission become a judge and a party in the same matter? This is the absurdity we are talking about.
We have to see it in this manner. It is just like the High Court settling a dispute between two parties and the High Court now going to another court to enforce its decision against one party. What kind of absurdity or mockery will that make our legal system look like?
So in the ongoing court case where NLC is seeking to enforce its ruling against UTAG, the title of the suit will be NLC vrs UTAG. Is the NLC not a party then? If the commission that heard the matter between Government and UTAG is now in court against UTAG, is that not a mockery of the Labour Act?
The reasonable thing to do is for the Attorney-General to cause an amendment of section 172 of Act 651 to read that any of the parties that appears before the Labour Commission may enforce the ruling, orders or direction given by the commission.
This will then make the NLC have its independence or neutrality in any labour disputes.
Until the amendment, it is clear, as it stands, that the NLC cannot be described as neutral. It is not the fault of the Commission but the fault of the drafters of the Labour Act who failed to give a deep thought to the application of the section under review.