May Day is workers’ day. Section 107 of the Labour Act states:
“Workers and employers have the right to establish and join workers’ and employers’ organisations of their own choice in accordance with the Constitution and laws of The Gambia.”
One of the key problems of The Gambia in the past is the absence of workers’ associations or unions fully empowered to defend their interest. Investors had come into the country who began by paying certain wages that improve the earnings of workers but end up reducing the wages by employing the workers temporarily only to re-engage them after their termination on new terms.
Foroyaa did receive complaints of such problems in certain hotels before the collapse of Gaddafi in Libya. Unions are demanding for better wages but have not called for empowerment and enlargement of joint industrial councils. Section 111 subsection (1) of the Labour Act states that,
“A Joint Industrial Council shall by agreement of a majority of employers and of trade unions, fix the minimum terms and conditions of employment of any employee or category of employees within the industries or job categories for which it operates, whether or not the employees are in management grades or are pensionable.”
The composition of the Joint Industrial Council is stated under section110 subsection (4) which states:
“The Minister shall appoint to each Joint Industrial Council –
(a) equal representatives of employers’ organisations and of registered trade unions; and
(b) two independent members.”
Subsection (5) adds,
“A trade union which satisfies the Minister that it has in membership not less twenty five per cent of the employees in any three or more categories of employees for which the Joint Industrial Council operates is entitled to have at least one representative in the Joint Industrial Council.”
As we commemorate May Day, this years the trade unions should call for unity and select representatives who will look into the Labour Act and identify the provisions that should be consolidated and implemented in the interest of the workers as well as look into the gaps that require reform to make the Act fit for purpose. This is not time for celebration or taking time at home. This is time for trade unions to become engaged so that they could serve the democratic functions of protecting the interest of employees in the face of a fragile economic environment and investment climate.