Public sector doctors have threatened to withdraw their services starting Monday, February 18, 2013, over issues arising from their migration onto the Single Spine Salary Structure (SSSS).
Chief Executive of the Fair Wages and Salaries Commission (FWSC) George Smith-Graham has called their action is premature.
The doctors have threatened to start the strike with the withdrawal of outpatient clinical services from Monday, February 11 to February 17, 2013 and attend to only emergencies and inpatient services during that time.
That would be followed with the total strike on Monday, February 18.
Ghana Medical Association (GMA) General Secretary Dr Frank Serebour said that doctors have adhered to the processes of the law but have not yet witnessed a favorable outcome to issues arising from their migration onto the SSSS.
He explained that the grading of district directors and medical superintendents was referred to the Ghana Health Service Council (GHS) on November 4, 2011 by the National Labour Commission (NLC), but had since not yielded a solution.
Dr Serebour said the position of the association is that any doctor being made a medical superintendent or district director has to maintain his or her grade.
Thus, a specialist being made a medical superintendent would still retain the grade of specialist, but would not assume a lower grade upon assuming the position of medical superintendent or district director.
As it stands now, he added, the positions as graded by the FWSC replace whatever grade a doctor had achieved and make him or her worse off. In other words, this arrangement does not consider a doctor’s expertise or skill at the time that he or she assumes an administrative position.
But Mr Smith-Graham said that this assertion could not be acceded to because the positions were management functions and any discussions on them were the preserve of the managers of the health sector and not the doctors.
On the issue of the market premium, Dr Serebour explained that previously, the market premium had always been a percentage of the basic salary.
However, he said, following a unilateral decision of the government, the market premium became an absolute figure in 2012, and the impact of this change was that doctors were made worse off with any adjustment of the basic salary.
Dr Serebour said if the issue of the market premium is not addressed, the prescribed premium by the National Labour Commission (NLC) of 1.0 for medical officers and 1.2 for doctors above that grade would diminish with time.
He also mentioned the recovery of the conversion difference that had resulted in the reduction of the salaries of some doctors in January 2012.
Contrary to those assertions by doctors, Mr Smith-Graham insisted that work is in progress to establish a standard guideline on market premium payments to workers who attracted that allowance, adding that the vice president is chairing the committee charged with drawing up these guidelines.
In the meantime, until the guidelines come out, doctors are enjoying an interim market premium, he explained.
He added that technical post-migration challenges accounted for the conversion differences. The resolution of the challenge was intersectoral and involved the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning (MOFEP) and the Controller and Accountant General's Department (CAGD), among others.
Mr Smith-Graham, therefore, advised the doctors to proceed cautiously.
Meanwhile, the press statement released after the First National Executive Council Meeting of the GMA held in Accra on January 25, 2013, catalogued the arduous developments on the issues of market premium, the recovery by the government of conversion differences paid to doctors when they were migrated onto the Single Spine Salary Structure (SSSS) and the payment of the market premium.
The doctors said they first raised their concerns about the issues in a press statement on January 27, 2012, particularly regarding the recovery of the conversion difference.
The Minister of Finance and Economic Planning directed the Controller and Accountant General's Department to suspend the recovery, but the directive was not adhered to and it was given after some monies had already been deducted from their salaries.
The GMA along with other health sector workers then wrote a communiqué on February 9, 2012 to the then-Minister of Health complaining about the recoveries made and the fact that they had resulted in a reduction of their pension contributions.
The message was copied to all stakeholders, including the National Labour Commission (NLC).
Another letter by the GMA to the acting Director of the Ghana Health Service (GHS) about the non-resolution in the issue of the placement of district directors and medical superintendents followed on February 16, 2012, and this was also copied to the NLC.
On April 1, 2012, the GMA issued a press statement in Koforidua again raising concerns about the still unresolved issues.
It issued another press statement on May 27, 2012, which threatened action if issues related to the conversion difference, market premiums and the grading of medical superintendent and district directors remained unresolved.
The association also filed a complaint against the NLC on May 28, 2012, with the latter acknowledging the complaint on May 31, 2012, summoning the GMA as petitioners and the Fair Wages and Salaries Commission (FWSC) as respondents to appear before the NLC on June 6, 2012.
Four months later, on September 20, the NLC referred the GMA's petition of May 28, 2012 for compulsory arbitration, which was to start on October 3. However, the petition never came off.