The International Labour Organisation (ILO) and Unicef define collective bargaining as a process through which workers—through their unions—negotiate contracts with their employers to determine their terms of employment.
ILO Convention (No. 154) observes that collective bargaining is a process through which employers and workers’ representatives (unions) determine working conditions and terms of employment; and/or regulate relations between employers and workers; and/or regulate relations between employers or their organisations and a workers’ organisation or workers’ organisations.
This process, however, has to be conducted strictly within specified rules and regulations, and time-frame so as to allow facilitation and implementation of the collective agreement.
The primary objective of these negotiations is to arrive at a collective agreement that regulates terms and conditions of employment. Collective agreements may also address the rights and responsibilities of the parties, thus ensuring a harmonious and productive workplace. Enhancing the inclusiveness of collective bargaining and collective agreements is a good way of reducing inequity and extending labour protection.
In light of collective bargaining whose result is collective agreement as observed by ILO/Unesco, the timelines for negotiating and concluding the 2021/2023 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) for teachers in the Public Service is fast running out as the financial component has to be captured and accordingly factored in the 2021/2022 Financial Estimates of the government.
Teachers in the public service are worried as most likely they will not be awarded pay increase in the coming financial year because the due process to determine salary increment has not even commenced. In spite of Knut presenting proposals and requesting for talks with Teachers Service Commission (TSC) on the new CBA, the commission has gone silent over the matter.
The greatest fear for teachers lies in Section 3.3 of the current CBA (2017/2021) which reads in part: “This agreement shall remain in force and bind all parties until a new CBA is negotiated.”
This means that if TSC fails to jump-start negotiations with teachers for a fresh CBA, the parties will continue using the old agreement which is already in serious dispute after the commission declared it will be using two parallel payrolls in the public teaching service.
If the current CBA was to be stretched to serve beyond June 30, 2021 when its life expires it will definitely face more legal challenges as matters relating to the development and implementation of Career Progression Guidelines (CPG) are still pending in court.
While asking the employer to embrace negotiations so as to conclude the 2021/2023 CBA within the stipulated timeframe, Knut hinged their push on Article 41(5) of the Constitution which states: “Every trade union, employers’ organisation and employer has the right to engage in collective bargaining”.
In the same vein, Knut demanded serious and concrete engagement with the hope that the commission would act in good faith by constituting a Consultative Committee on the Terms and Conditions of Service in line with Section 13.5 of TSC Act (2012) to negotiate the new CBA with teacher unions.
By law, TSC is obligated to appoint a 10-member committee comprising five members from unions and government for negotiations of a CBA. The committee is led by an independent chairperson and a secretary.
Through this committee, unions submit their proposals for discussion after which the commission makes a counter-offer. Thereafter, details of the discussions and the counter-offer are transmitted to the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) for advice before Knut and TSC sign the agreement.
For unexplained reason(s), TSC has side-stepped Knut in the drafting of the 2021/2023 CBA in total violation of Article 41(5) of the Constitution and Section 13.5 of TSC Act.
According to established norms—the very norms that were applied during negotiation and processing of the current CBA—the first meeting of the committee sets rules for engagement that comply with our laws and the ILO statutes. This is followed by presentation of proposals by Knut, an exercise closely followed by analysis and justifications.
There will be a counter-proposal from the employer before SRC advice is sought to pave the way for signing the agreement.
The final phase of the elaborate process is registration of the CBA in Employment and Labour Relations Court for issuance of a certificate.
Therefore, the action taken by TSC to circumvent the due process of negotiating and drafting a new CBA by sneaking in proposals to SRC is ultra vires and an attempt by the commission to provoke teachers.
It is instructive to note that the primary objective of collective bargaining is to ensure that both parties – in this case, Knut and TSC – work harmoniously in negotiating the terms and conditions of service for teachers for the purpose of improving teaching standards and performance in the teaching service.
The CBA is intended to facilitate structured and constructive dialogue between TSC and Knut for the purpose of maintaining industrial peace in the public teaching service. However, what is being witnessed today is a sharp diversion from what the framers of Constitution envisioned.
The commission has had and continues to have a series of governance issues which drag down its reputation. This must come to an end.
-Mr Sossion is a nominated MP and Secretary-General of Knut
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