No Cash For Striking Doctors

The chaos in the public health sector may not be ending anytime soon because there is no money to meet the demands of the workers, especially those of the striking doctors who are in day seven of the strike.

Three deaths have so far been recorded at the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital as a result of the strike.

According to Employment and Labour Relations Minister, Haruna Iddrisu, the government is ‘overstretched’ in its finances to accede to the demands of the workers in the interim.

He said bluntly that the government did not have the resources to meet all the demands of the striking workers, even if the requests are legitimate.

“Further, it is important for Government to conduct a financial analysis of the impact of any such conditions of service on Government expenditure in order not to adversely affect the annual budget approved by Parliament,” he said.

Several government workers, including doctors in public health facilities and pharmacists, are on strike but attending to only emergency situations after failed promises to meet their demands.

Mr Iddrisu said the economy is constrained to accommodate any labour unrests based on remuneration – painting a picture of financial crisis situation.

The IMF had already warned the government against high wage bill.

The minister maintained that the doctors made some 14 demands: “some we are able to accommodate; some partially, others we were not able to accommodate at all.”

He rather asked the doctors to return to the negotiating table so that the differences would be ironed out.

Mr Iddrisu stated that as a result of the need to maintain equity and fairness in public sector remuneration, especially in order not to jeopardise the recently implemented Single Spine Pay Policy, it had become necessary for government to seek the advice of the Fair Wages and Salaries Commission (FWSC) on the demands put forward by the doctors.

GMA Surge

The Ghana Medical Association (GMA) is leading the charge with demands for improved conditions of service as well as pensions. According to the members, the government had failed to finalise a document spelling out their conditions of service by the end of July 2015, which was the deadline set by the association.

The GMA issued the ultimatum to strike as far back as November last year, and once the June 2015 deadline elapsed, they swung into action.

Doctors’ Demands

Part of the doctors’ demands include 40% of basic salaries as accommodation allowance per month, 20% as core duty facilitation allowance, 30% clothing allowance, 20% maintenance allowance, 20% utility allowance, 50% as professional allowance and 25% special risk allowance and vehicle tax exemption.

NDC Propaganda

The proposal has been described as ‘outrageous’ by some sections of the public, particularly National Democratic Congress (NDC) communicators, but the doctors have accused the presidency of deliberately releasing its propagandists to cause them public disaffection.

The NDC propagandists have cynically urged the government to sack the doctors and bring in medical professionals from Cuba; but the doctors have called their bluff and said they were even prepared to resign en-bloc if their demands were not met.

Unlawful Strike

The government is still insisting that the strike action by the doctors is ‘unlawful’ and has appealed to them to resume work to pave way for negotiations.

“The action of the doctors is unlawful. We cannot negotiate under coercive environment,” Haruna Iddrisu told Joy FM yesterday.

In a road map, the doctors are withdrawing their OPD services for a week after which emergency services will also be withdrawn if government fails to address their grievances.

The minister said that it was rather ‘disappointing’ that the doctors, in the middle of negotiations, decided to withdraw part of their services.

He said the strike is disastrous for the country because if the outstanding issue is resolved the lives that are lost as a result of the strike cannot be recovered.

Other Strikes

To complicate matters, nurses of the Accra Psychiatric Hospital and Government and Hospital Pharmacists Association (GHOSPA) have also laid down their tools.

In just a month, about five different public employee groups – the majority of who are from the health sector – have either gone on strike or threatened to do so over poor remunerations.

AG’s Department

State Attorneys at the AG’s Department eventually called off their strike after almost a month, granting the government what looks like a temporary reprieve.

The over 150 lawyers have, however, threatened to resume the industrial action if their demands for improved conditions of service are not met.

They submitted to compulsory arbitration at the National Labour Commission and have issued a 14-day ultimatum to the arbiter to sort out their demands with the government.

IMF Conditionalities

Ghanaians are in for austere times as the agreement entered between the NDC government and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) continues to bite hard.

Already, the IMF has ordered a freeze on public sector employment, even though the government continues to deny that fact.

Interestingly, the recent three-year loan agreement between Ghana and the IMF contained a freeze on public sector employment and limits the government to increase the wage bill to not more than 10% – a move that labour experts say will trigger (labour) agitations since they all want more than 10% on the negotiation table.

The IMF is also asking the government to withdraw subsidies on utilities and petroleum products (which is already being implemented) and the Breton Wood institution expects that the measures will lead to savings of 2% of GDP.

Cash Squeeze

What makes the current situation a challenging one is that these aggrieved workers are protesting at a time the government seems to be saddled with a cash squeeze.

Prices of petroleum products keep rising and the cedi continues to underperform, coupled with an ongoing energy crisis (dumsor); and it appears the overstretched workers are not able to hold on to the rising cost of living anymore.

Dead Goat

President John Mahama has already stated that he will not give in to the demands of workers, especially getting to the 2016 elections, claiming that he had seen the worst of such actions in the three years of his administration, hence his ‘dead goat’ analogy.

Some critics of the government have said the strike chorus appears to be the only language the Mahama-led NDC administration understands.