Why Are Doctors Still On Strike?

The reason for the doctors� strike was twofold; unilateral capping of the market premium by Fair Wages and Salaries Commission (FWSC) and the unilateral stoppage of Conversion Difference payment with its attendant reduced pensions of doctors. The market premium is an amount paid to attract critical skills that are in short supply for which the public sector competes with the private. This was made a percentage of the base pay. The conversion difference is the difference between the single spine base pay (which is lower) and the base pay of health sector salary scale where doctors migrated from (higher). This ensures that pension, which is solely based on the base pay, is not reduced during the migration. These issues were taken to the National Labour Commission (NLC) who ruled that FWSC should desist from varying their rulings since they become an integral part of the conditions of service for the doctors. As to be expected, the FWSC refused to work with the NLC's ruling and when Ghana Medical Association (GMA) realised that the NLC was not going to court to enforce its ruling, the strike was called three weeks ago. As you may be aware of, we initially withdrew only OPD services for a week and when we were to withdraw the emergency services according to the roadmap, we stayed it for a week because of some favourable overtures from the government and appeals from some well-meaning Ghanaians and civil society organisations. Through the instrumentality of the Secretary General of the TUC, an acceptable schedule of payment of the market premium was arrived at and an MoU signed subject to approval by the GMA Council on April 11, 2013. As part of this MoU, a sub-committee of the Public Services Joint Negotiating Committee was to look into the issues of conversion difference and the reduced pension. True to the MOU, a meeting was convened between the GMA and that committee and to our surprise, the first statement made by the chairman of that committee was that its mandate was only for the pensions and not the conversion difference! The GMA at this stage refused to escalate the action and communicated to the government that nothing short of full resolution of the issues would make us call the strike off totally but because they had shown some faith, we would stay the escalation for a week to get the issues resolved. It took a whole five working days for the Ministry of Manpower and Labour Relations to call a meeting. For the first time since this action was called, almost after two weeks, the health minister sat in that meeting to find out what the issues were! After listening to, and demonstrating remarkable understanding of the issues, the two ministers in attendance as well as the CEO of FWSC implored the GMA team not to travel to their various destinations but to hold themselves in readiness for a meeting around 6p.m. that very day. This was April 12, the last working day before the escalation of the action according to our roadmap and one would have expected that this will be given the urgency that it deserves. The meeting was never called, not the 6p.m. promised and neither the Saturday nor Sunday. Interestingly, the government propaganda was at its peak. The media was informed that a crunch meeting was on going on Sunday the 14th when no such meeting was called. Not even the press statement reminding us of the looming withdrawal of emergencies on that Friday could expedite things. So emergencies were withdrawn and it took another three days for the Minister of Health to call for another meeting. This meeting had in attendance the Chief Director of the Health Ministry, the Director General of the Ghana Health Service and some heads of institutions in the Greater Accra Region notably that of Korle Bu and Ridge Hospital. At this meeting which happened on Tuesday, April 23, GMA was informed that the government had accepted liability for the conversion difference and promised that it was ready to restore and refund all arrears accrued. GMA demanded that these should be put on paper spelling out the payment schedule of the arrears and when it was agreeable to the GMA Council, the strike would be called off. The minister promised to consult and get the letter to us by the next day. We were even more hopeful when we got invited for a meeting with the Ministers of Health and Manpower and Labour Relations the next day. The meeting was at the instance of the Secretary General of the TUC. However, that was not to be! After waiting for over an hour, the meeting was called off because these two ministers were still awaiting the figures from the Controller and Accountant General�s Department! This came as very strange to us because a day earlier, the health minister had mentioned the amount involved and we even showed goodwill by suggesting that they should assess and give us realistic timelines for payment of the arrears but it had to be committed on paper! This has been the usual story for almost two years! Sometimes when doctors go on strike, the impression created is that doctors are asking for more money, doctors here are not asking for something different. We are only asking for what has been agreed to be respected. Even in strike, people continue to promise and counter promise with no intention of honouring. This accounts for the enormous lack of trust at the negotiating table. Even after signing agreements, some government officials deny that any such document was signed. Also contributing to this lack of trust is the posturing and utterances of some government officials. The whole nation heard the CEO of FWSC announcing to the whole world that doctors did not deserve conversion difference when Joy Fm organised their programme on strikes! Now how do you subject yourself to a committee set up to solve the conversion difference issue when he happens to be the same person chairing the committee to find solutions to this conversion difference canker! Would you have trust in such a committee to bring solutions to the conversion difference for doctors if you were one? The government propaganda machinery is in full gear making all sorts of false allegation against us. Media houses refuse to give us a hearing and surprisingly, even the private and seemingly objective media houses have refused to publish our explanations. I was shocked when my article entitled "doctors strike- why again" was published at the opinion section on myjoyonline and deleted barely twelve hours later. This was an article that was published in the Daily Graphic and I received an email from Joy Fm to submit it for publishing. What dramatically changed for this turn around? Do we really want to educate the public as to the real issues or we want them to swim in ignorance? We have seen all sorts of things thrown at doctors, the vilification of the GMA president, demonisation of all doctors who slave to cater for the health needs of the populace. I have seen doctors retiring and dying as paupers, doctors who served this country so well. I would have thought that the populace would be sympathetic to the reduced pensions of doctors! that they truly would if and only if they were told the real truth. Interestingly, the NLC whose ruling was not respected by the FWSC leading to us resorting to the strike has finally found its legal voice and has taken the GMA rather to court! I really hope that we will all strive to strengthen these state institutions to get them out of the immense influence of politicians. Rather than trying to solve the issues, they are now trying to use the NLC to compel us to call off the strike. If they think that will deter us then they are in for a very rude shock since you cannot beat us and prevent us from crying. Doctors in this country deserve better, the people of Ghana deserve better, the state institutions deserve better. Let us rid them of political influence and the strikes will end forever. Another thing that we always hear when we go on strike is that we are an essential service. People remember that we are an essential service only when we are on strike. When we don't have conditions of service, when we buy our own medicines even in the hospitals we work in, when we pay for cost of admissions to the same hospitals where we work, when we pay when our children are delivered in the same hospital we work in, when we pay for our own children who get admitted to the same hospitals we work in? If issues are not dealt with comprehensively when they come up and rather resort to pit the public against us, then I shudder to say that you have not seen the last of the strikes.