Ideally, it should be the Labour Department that should supply the statistics pertaining to our labour force with all that means, not only in terms of numbers but also the various categories, that is to say, those working and those unemployed.
To be able to perform such a task, the said department should be empowered fully. It should be able to adjudicate disputes between workers and their employers, no matter who they may be. Thus, adequate training for its staff should be provided for them as a matter of routine. It should carry out periodically, inspections of factories, hotels and other places of work to ensure that it is all shipshape for the employees concerned. It should be added there that this is not suggesting that they should impinge on the work of the union. Needless to say, the functions between the two are different. The approach to inspection should be an integrated one, that is to say, Labour Department going about it along with the National Environmental Agency and the Department of Health. Safety of the employees apart, this would minimise the incidences of accidents at work places.
As a matter of course, Labour Department should ensure that employees pay their social security contributions. It is an open secret that many of the employees are in arrears with regard to this payment.
Still on employees, the ideal thing would be for Labour Department to be the secretary, if not the chairperson of the all-important Expatriate Quote Allocation Board. This would serve as an effective check on the number of foreign entrepreneurs entering The Gambia. Needless to say, only those whose cases are genuine would be allowed in so that Gambians would be having more elbow room on the relatively top jobs which the foreigners would otherwise take over.
It is not enough that Labour Department is empowered to issue labour cards, which every employee should as his or her prime duty possess. Evidently, it is one area in which the department can serve as a check on the permit which aliens may obtain from the Immigration Department. It is also evident that possessing the labour card does not necessarily guarantee that one gets employed. This may sound childlish, but the hard fact is that some of the employees in the private sector would rather prefer giving jobs to foreigners than Gambians with whatever wages he may feel like, and that would invariably be comparatively low and the fact that he can fire the foreigner with comparative ease.
This brings me to my second point, namely the equipping of the Labour Department. Here I am thinking in terms of mainly computerisation. If the department could computerise all people to whom they issue the labour card they would then be in a position to ascertain quite a number of pieces of information on them. Thus they can have comprehensive and relevant statistics on them. So much better for government, who need to know such vital statistics as to how the work force is progressing generally and in particular, whether the foreigners in our midst can be contained. The Gambia is one of those countries in the sub-region, if not Africa as a whole, where the foreigners are fast becoming a force to the reckoned with when it comes to employment and employment opportunities.
Surely, we would not want a situation in which Gambians will be marginalised in their own country. I must hasten to add that I am not one of those who would advocate The Gambia for just Gambians but I would certainly not like to see Gambians marginalised, especially in such an environment which the present regime has provided for us.
I suppose it is generally known that Labour Department does not issue labour cards just for the sake of doing so. It is issued only to adults, in our case to persons above the age of 18 years. Thus the country’s labour force does not include children. This of course, has a particular significance, namely that we cannot be accused of exploiting child labour, of which some countries in the world are so notorious for. It should, therefore, be made compulsory for employers to insist that only those possessing the labour card can enter their establishments.
Having said this, the issuing of a labour card should of course be the beginning of a process for Labour Department. The next big step is for the labour inspector to be going round to check on the possession or otherwise of the labour card by employees wherever they may be. If for example, they come across those of them not possessing one, they should not only force them to have it, but should deal with the employers concerned!
The process should not stop there, too. Since the ultimate aim is to computerise the labour force, whatever information the inspector may have on the employees whether at the point of issue or renewal or whatever should be fed right away into the computer. The implication of this is quite clear. First of all, it will be made known by the computer how much of our labour force is Gambian, and how many are foreigners. Talking about foreigners, The Expatiate Quota Allocation Board would only show the number of foreigners of managerial calibre and their lieutenants, not the rank and file who may well be in teeming numbers as to be a force to be reckoned with, in terms of security and the rest of it. Needless to say, the fate of some of the countries in our sub-region, Ivory Coast being the most vivid example, holds a big lesson for us.
Alhaji Ebou C Faal
56 Mosque Road, Latrikunda]]>