Mergers are at the core of union existence now - Adu Amankwah
Kwasi Adu Amankwah, General Secretary, African Regional Organisation of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC Africa), has said that there is the need for trade unions to merge to be able to play their roles as consolidation is core to the existence of unions.
He said unions were formed primarily because individual workers could not face up to individual employers, so workers needed to unite as a force to face employers.
Mr Adu Amankwah said this at a day’s forum organised by the Trades Union Congress in partnership with the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, on mergers in trade unions in Accra.
He said when unions emerged in Ghana, they were referred to as house or local unions, but when they recognised the need for a stronger union, national unions came up, so different house unions came together to form national unions.
Mr Adu Amankwah said the world of work was rapidly changing and the number of gains that workers had before were now eroded as they had become weaker.
He said there were many mergers going on in the corporate world for capital to become stronger, but workers had forgotten the reasons for which unions were formed in the first place.
He said there were about 150 unions as at the last count with some having less than 100 members, adding that unions must be able to stand on their own and live up to the values for which they were formed.
He said “a union of less than a 100 members can do nothing apart from begging. The most important thing is the question of willing among leadership of unions and the understanding of the values that formed union. The difference is not so much among the workers as among those who lead and think that they can do whatever they like.”
“If we want to continue to be beggars then we can pretend to be unions and independent, but if we recognise that unions have responsibilities which are dear to membership and the nation as a whole, then we have to rethink or stay apart and understand that there is nothing like strength.”
Prof. Akua Britwum of the University of Cape Coast said mergers were on the table as one of union strategies, but in Ghana, the need for mergers intensified in the 1980s and 1990s as a restructuring tool, when unions faced persistent decline accompanying adjustments.
She said union mergers could be in two forms; amalgamation, where the two or more unions somehow maintain a certain semblance of their identity and unity or absorption, where one union gets subsumed in another and loses its legal status.
“But whatever the nature of the merger, all unions concerned lose some level of autonomy and perhaps that is where the resistance to mergers begin.”
Prof Britwum said for a merger process to begin, there was the need for the presence of two or more unions, a legal framework and some reduction in autonomy.
She said some factors that governed mergers included; countervailing forces which threatened the social status of union leaders, the representativeness of membership and their identity and the ideology of the unions in conversation as well as the economic and political status of unions.
She said the most significant barriers to internal mergers came from the leadership and not the members, saying there was the need to understand that such considerations make mergers discussion tricky.
“Several factors can shape union mergers, the size of the union, the challenges it is facing from membership, its influence or its financial conditions. The motivation to mergers pre-supposes that unions recognize that there are some benefits that include reshaping the unions.”
Mr R. K Yeboah, Chairman of the TUC, said there were unions in the system with TUC having about 20 affiliates, each one existing in the sector they belonged, but with some sectors having two or more leading to divisions.
He said when there was division, managers and government become interested and penetrated to get whatever they wanted, adding that it was time the unions were together.
“Looking at the wages of workers now you realize that because we fight together as segregate bodies, government gives whatever it thinks it can afford. But as workers if we come together to still fight together we would get the fair share of the national cake which belong to us.”