Can Fair Wages And Doctors Redefine Their Relationship?
Did Ghanaian doctors have to proceed on a two day strike action before the National Labor Commission (NLC)could rule on a matter that had been pending before it for months and before Fair Wages and Salaries Commission (FWSC) could agree not to unilaterally vary the employee’s conditions of service without prior consultation?
“The FWSC, therefore, erred when it unilaterally proceeded to vary the terms of the November 4, 2011 Award and for that matter, the Conditions of Service of the GMA. Good faith as required by practice and the law, appeared to be missing here” pronounced the arbitration panel of the NLC in its historic decision of February 12th, 2013.
On the key issues of doctors’ market premium, the position of District Directors of Health Services and the matter of some doctors recording reduced pension contributions in the aftermath of the implementation of the Single Spine Salary Structure (SSSS), the decision of the NLC delivered on 12th February, 2013 had simply affirmed the Commission’s earlier ruling of November, 2011.
That ruling had given market premium for doctors as factors of the basic pay. This in the view of the NLC ought to remain the status quo until and unless varied through due process.
As had been argued by the Ghana Medical Association (GMA), given that the 2010 market premium had been calculated based on the 2010 basic salaries and the 2011 market premium based on the 2011 basic salary, it was only reasonable that pending consensus on guidelines for the implementation of market premium in the public sector by the FWSC, the 2012 market premium for doctors ought to be based on the 2012 basic salaries instead of the 2011 premiums being held static as argued by the FWSC initially.
Another contentious matter pertained to the position of District Directors of Health Services and Medical Superintendents where the GMA had argued that since different categories of health workers qualified to be appointed into these positions, that these professionals be appointed to these management positions with their technical grades and compensated adequately for their management functions rather than consider the management role as a grade in itself.
Of course, in the NLC’s ruling, the matter has been appropriately referred to the Ghana Health Service Council for a final determination.
The final matter of some doctors experiencing reductions in their pensions through problematic interpretations of what constitutes conversion difference and whether or not doctors deserve this remains a very sore point that both the FWSC and GMA and to a certain extent, government ought to avert their minds to and find a creative solution to.
Regarding next steps, it is interesting to note in a memorandum of understanding signed on the 12thof February, 2013 in the Flag Staff House that the GMA and FWSC both commit to “abide by the awards of the National Labor Commission. Further to this the FWSC and GMA commit to have a discussion spelling out clearly the implementation process and to submit same to the NLC by the 20th February, 2013.”
Assuming that the FWSC and the GMA show equal faith and commitment to outlining the above named implementation process and government shows equal faith and commitment to executing its stipulations, will this then be the end of all strike actions , at least as far as doctors and their employers are concerned?
There are indeed many who doubt this, arguing that good faith, a critical ingredient to any productive employer-employee relation, appears so scarce in the discourse that industrial action, often touted as the last resort and sometimes occasioned by the most mundane of events flowing from the employer’s intransigence, appears to have become an easy first option.
There are others who are asking what it would take for the GMA and the FWSC to lift the nature of their conversations and actions in order to set a radically new tone reflecting a new level of performance in employer-employee relations that would rescue all stakeholders from the vicious cycle of chronic industrial unrests to which parties appear to have become hostages of.
What would it take for parties to negotiate an agreement and see to its full and successful implementation as a regular occurrence without negotiations once breaking down? Others also trace industrial problems down to the fact that most doctors have proved themselves incapable of looking beyond government as their main source of income. These should be the new challenge!
When successfully done, industrial actions would become a rare occurrence, professionals will happily ply their trade and efforts can better focus on improving healthcare processes and outcomes while managers become more proactive. The strike was not just about trust. It was also about how strong and responsive our institutions are.
What difference would it have made, if the NLC, the institution mandated to address labor disputes, had constituted an arbitration panel within three days, and ruled on the matter within fourteen days as stipulated by law as soon as the dispute was referred to them by the GMA in May 2012? Will doctors ever have reached a strike action?
What stopped the GMA and the FWSC from sitting and committing to finding an amicable resolution to the sticky points outside the domains of the NLC? When the mandated state institution fails in its mandate to respond expeditiously to labor conflicts that arise pertaining to so called essential services, do they then retain the moral authority to rein anyone in when hell breaks loose?
As sub optimally as some of the above institutions have conducted themselves, as a participant in the recent dispute matter, it has been interesting watching how in its relationship with government, the National Labor Commission and to an extent the Fair Wages and Salary Commission sough to assert their authority as independent state institution that were not going to yield easily to any government actions that may rightly or wrongly have been misconstrued as constituting a subversion of their mandate.
Also un-missable, was government’s concern not to appear to meddling in any organization’s mandate. Perhaps, there is hope after all, that one day, these institutions will grow and assert themselves fully and proactively. As negotiations proceed however, it would be far more progressive if all parties were to approach the negotiating table with proposed solutions and options rather than with entrenched positions.
With the former, creative compromises are always a welcome by product. I will never believe that both parties do not have the capacity to craft solutions and radically alter the current acrimonious relationship.
Perhaps it is proper to end by reechoing the commendations some had for the Chief of Staff, Mr. Prosper Bani and the Honorable Minister of Information, Hon. Mahama Ayariga, for their level approach and passionate engagement throughout the processes, leading to the final settlement.
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