THE AGENCY PROBLEM IN TRADE UNIONS: A CASE FOR ENFORCING TRADE UNION LEADERSHIP ACCOUNTABILITY IN NAMIBIA’S LABOUR LAWS
Keywords:agency problem, trade union leaders, bargaining agents, employees or the workers, collective bargaining
Namibia’s public and private sectors have encountered substantial industrial or strike action. This article highlights the agency problem that arises between trade union leaders or bargaining agents and the employees or the workers they represent during collective bargaining. The agency problem is a conflict of interest inherent in any relationship where one party is expected to act in another’s best interests. How to ensure that the agent acts solely in the interest of the principal is a challenge. The agency problem can occur in companies, non-governmental organisations, professional institutions, governmental bodies or trade unions. Namibian labour laws provide for freedom of association, which includes the freedom to form and join trade unions, and also entrenches fundamental labour rights and protections, and regulates collective labour relations among others. However, the legal framework is silent as to what happens if union leaders or representatives act in bad faith and sign collective agreements that are not in the best interest of their members. This contribution argues that trade union representatives should be held accountable for failing to deliver on their mandates. Compromised trade union leadership or political intrigue in unionism needs to be addressed to minimise the agency problem in industrial action in future. Labour law practitioners should explore effective strategies to address this conundrum and ensure that the best interests of workers are upheld by trade union leaders. Trade unions must be transformative socio-economic movements to remain relevant and sustainable in Namibia or elsewhere. This can be achieved through law reform and by integrating the principles of the law of agency in labour laws to enforce trade union leadership accountability.
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