The International Labour Organisation (ILO) defines social dialogue as the exchange of information between or among the tripartite partners – government, employers and workers on issues of common interest as it relates to economic and social policy.
Social dialogue includes all forms of negotiation and consultation for consensus building, joint-problem solving and joint decision making.
Social dialogue takes place at the national, regional or the enterprise level and it can be inter-professional, sectoral or a combination of all.
For social dialogue to be effective, it requires strong, independent workers’ and employers’ organisations, with capacity to access relevant information.
Also, there must be political will and commitment to enable parties to engage, as well as the respect for their rights to freely associate and collectively negotiate.
In the year 2003, the government passed a labour law, known as the Labour Act, 2003 (Act 651) to promote sound industrial relations practice in the country.
Ghana, being a member of the ILO, recognised the importance of creating the needed platform for the parties to freely engage through negotiations to reach agreements where possible, and where necessary to build consensus, where agreements could not be reached, that is, to agree to disagree over matters of mutual interest.
The law provides a framework for the parties to develop internal mechanisms to deal with their grievances through dialogue via internally developed systems.
It also facilitates third party intervention in the resolution of disputes through the application of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms of facilitated negotiations, mediation or arbitration.
These provisions of the law are to promote social dialogue both within and outside the work environment and to ensure a win-win situation at all times.
Social dialogue is a key instrument for economic and social cohesion and good governance.
It plays an important role by promoting harmonious labour relations, fair and decent working conditions, job creation, inclusive growth and economic development.
That, therefore, means that the parties in employment relationship must always use social dialogue as a tool to engage and even disengage where need be, rather than resorting to unilateral decisions, which may create chaos on the industrial scene and affect the undertaking.
Globally, social dialogue is seen as a way to improve labour conditions around the world. It is about constructive negotiations and co-operation between employers and employees and may include government as a stakeholder.
For the effectiveness of social dialogue, all the social partners must be committed to the process with benefits clearly outlined and understood by all.
For employees, social dialogue reduces inequality and improves working conditions, enhances participatory democracy, offers protection, and workers are recognised as equal partners in the process.
For employers, social dialogue promotes harmonious relations, improved policy and prevents and/or minimises conflicts.
For government, it promotes democratisation of economic and social policy-making, increased legitimacy and ownership, enhanced partnership and collaboration and also prevents conflicts and tension for enhanced democratic stability.
Studies show that social dialogue, if well practised, has the potential to promote democratic governance and participation as well as economic stability and progress.
Social dialogue can be applied as a tool for maintaining and encouraging peaceful and productive workplace relations.
The writer is Head of Public Affairs Unit of the MELR/Staff of ISD