By Muhammed Jobarteh
Kotu Senior School
Its May Day again and all is set for departments of the government and private companies to celebrate the successes in the labor market with general union of workers.
I am personally disturbed by the tradition of celebrating Labor Day in the Gambia by converging at the independence stadium, dancing, singing and sporting in celebration of the satisfaction of the labor environment.
In fact, May Day is a day set aside by the United Nations (International Labor Organization) to reflect on labor matters in member countries with respect to the universal declaration of human rights; and the domestication of International Labor Laws in local constitutions of member countries.
Given this noble objective of the ILO for the adoption of this day for workers to reflect, it is fictitious to see the Gambian unions and labor administrators highjack this day to a show of happiness as if everything is perfectly in place.
I my opinion, far from that is the situation in the Gambia. In fact, there is very little to celebrate in our labor environment given some of the prevailing conditions in the labor market played by the Employers, Government and the Unions.
It’s know to all the salary system inherited from the British colonial administration is poor and continue to be very low relative to the ECOWAS benchmarks. This subject warrant discussion and of course offer solution through collective bargaining against the collective view point of all union members through a union congress.
The Government, Employers and Unions (employee representatives) must ensure the application of core labor standards to bring about a smooth and equitable labor environment. Once again, these standards must be agreed upon by union representatives in tripartite discussion and recommend to the law makers for onward adoption into the constitution of the republic.
Some of us already know that companies (respected) are still employing without a written employment letter detailing the contract agreements and the employee either are not aware of their rights or are too scared to cry foul. There again, the unions are too far away from the workers hence the need to have a union representative in every “trade” area.
Many other companies still hire and fire without regard to the existing policy framework governing appointment and dismissal. This is a gross violation of basic ILO regulation and National laws of security at work. But it continues to prevail as if the state and its justice system is captured by the rich and influential hence free and easy access to labor rights.
Appropriate compensation mechanisms for victims of work related accidents and people working in dangerous work environments (especially low-income earners) is not in place. The principal purpose of Trade Unions is to promote the welfare of their members (traditionally industry laborers). The weak members of the group who are supposed to be the biggest beneficiaries of the laws are denied access to compensation because of their low education, poor economic condition and inability to engage in a legal battle and perhaps denied more privileges. Such category of disgruntled victims often accused the unions of bribery and other corrupt practices when the unions wielded little power to force the hand of “high profile” officials.
There still prevail dangerous and enslaved or indentured works and dangerous forms of child labor; Open and unrestricted by the basic labor regulations. Labor unions and administrators must step up to the plate to enforce the laws in the labor environment.
Whether the Labor Ministry and Unions should ensure that there is timely payment of Social Security benefits by all institutions and these benefits should be accessible to all payers when the need arise. Payment of social security claims is also a frustrating moment for many workers and the intervention of the unions is required in this area. Unions must also ensure a robust and systematic allocation of social security number to all contributors of the provident fund and no such thing as “floating moneys” should exist.
Workers need to see and know about their unions and be seen to be engaging bearers of the provident fund and hold them accountable at national union congresses.
Labor administrators should be held accountable and encouraged in dialoged to harmonize the situation of the labor market and curriculum of institutions of learning to enhance employment. There is already an existing gap between labor market information and educational institutions which could bridge unemployment and enhance the creation of a unified, accountable and responsible labor unions known and respected by all.
Regulate (and Prevent) the formation of renegade union groups who would forcibly demand for the improvement of their conditions because of the inactions of the actual union groups as we have seen with the teachers and Doctors. These and other incidents could occur if the national union fails to effectively administer sub-unions and come up with required policies for efficient labor administration.
The plight of the retirees is also a subject of discussion at national labor union congress to fairly examine their situation and sound regulations that would make one to be eager to retire from active service.
Instead of addressing these issues and report to members, The Gambia Workers Union is presiding over the spending of millions of tax payers money to purchase sport gears for many of who are non-athletes in observance of the May Day sports.
The workers union is also presiding over the distraction of the attention of workers from very pressing issues in the labor environment to colorful celebrations as if everything is rosy in the labor market.
This I believe must be revisited, reviewed and reorganize to a meaningful observation of May Day.
I salute the service of the Gambia Teachers Union, Doctors and Association of lawyers and all other union groups for their stance for their members.