An Economist and Lecturer at the University of Cape Coast, Dr John Gartchie Gatsi, has called for calm between labour and the government, explaining that the current situation where labour uses strikes to achieve their desires is detrimental to the economic growth of the country.
He said prolonged strikes had the tendency to impact negatively on economic growth prospects and, thus, called on the medical doctors and teachers to return to work while negotiations on their conditions of service continued.
He said though the impact depended on the sector of the economy, strikes generally distorted productivity of workers.
In an interview with the GRAPHIC BUSINESS, Dr Gatsi said the health sector was sensitive to the economy such that income generation to repay debt related to some internally executed projects of some of the bigger public health facilities might be truncated and placed some of the equipment under utilised over the period of the strike by the Ghana Medical Association (GMA).
“Monitoring and care for health equipment maybe undermined during the period of the strike. Clearly export revenue from health normally through health tourism will reduce and limit the contribution of the sector to the growth of the services sector and to Gross Domestic Product (GDP),” he said.
He said the strike was also likely going to increase the cost of access to health care as many would arrange for alternative health care in the private health institutions.
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“The strike may affect health tourism of the country. In recent times, many citizens of neighbouring countries and foreigners are accessing selected specialised health services from public health facilities,” he said.
Negotiations between a government team and that of the GMA on August 9, 2015, (Sunday) broke down with both parties walking out of the meeting as they failed to make compromises.
The doctors are asking for 40 per cent of their basic salary as accommodation allowance, 70 to 100 litres of fuel per month and 50 per cent of basic salary per month as professional allowance.
They are also asking for clothing allowance of 30 per cent of their basic salary, a request many have described as outrageous, while the government says the country's budget cannot afford it.
Averagely, a Ghanaian doctor is said to be paid around US$960 monthly.
The country’s health sector has since been in serious crisis as attempts to resolve the current strike by public health sector doctors failed to yield any positive results.
The strike has put pressure on military and police hospitals in Accra as they seek to handle an overwhelming number of patients who have thronged the institutions following the indefinite strike by doctors.
The Korle Bu Teaching Hospital has closed its outpatient services to patients, though management says it is still managing inpatients and emergency cases.
It has, therefore, advised all patients requiring outpatient services to go to private and peripheral hospitals in the metropolis.
Pharmacists are also on strike demanding conditions of service and members of the University Teachers Association of Ghana (UTAG) demanded the payment of their book and research allowances.
To control the situation, government recalled doctors on leave and urged the national disaster management organisation to assist.
It has described the strike as illegal and urged the doctors to go back while negotiations continue, a call many groups in the country have joined, but the doctors have refused to heed.
President John Dramani Mahama has said, “If we don't go by the law we'll go back to the jungle, the labour law says that you can't go on strike while you're still negotiating.”
The Minister of Employment and Labour Relations, Mr Haruna Iddrisu, also reminded doctors and other striking public sector workers in a statement that their salaries could be frozen if their strike action persisted.
The Labour Act
Section 168 sub-section (4) of the Labour Act 2003 (Act 651) states that “Without prejudice to subsection (2) a worker who takes part in an illegal strike may have his or her services terminated by the employer without notice for breach of his or her contract of employment or may forfeit his or her remuneration in respect of the period during which he or she is engaged in the illegal strike.
Impact on the IMF deal
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) three-year arrangement with Ghana under the Extended Credit Facility (ECF) covering the period of 2015–17, to support its new economic reform programme translates to US$918 million.
Ghana is also required to reduce public spending and make efforts at improving on tax collection.
Dr Gatsi recommended Ghana should look at the IMF programme as a solution package for the economy.
“In order to make the IMF programme work, pre-IMF arrangements were undertaken which bought labour unions to contribute to expectations of remuneration in the 2015 fiscal year.
To benefit from the programme, stakeholder engagement and moderation in terms of demands for better working conditions and the willingness of the employer to accommodate moderated demands is key,” he said.
He said it was important for government to continue to inform Ghanaians and workers about issues of expenditure controls and expectations, and not wait for the public and workers to read meaning to the IMF programme.
“Government must use proper information management to increase support for the IMF programme approved by parliament. It must ensure that strikes are not used to undermine the efficacy of the IMF programme as failure of the programme will risk the medium term prospects of the country,” he said.
He urged labour and government to reassess their commitment to safeguarding the country’s economy.
The Head of the Employment and Statistics Unit of the NLD, Mr Anthony Awotwe, urged Ghanaian workers and the public to allow the Labour Law to work.
He said though the members of the GMA had the right to ask for what they wanted, the strike was totally unlawful because at the negotiation table no one had the right to strike.
“The law is there but professionals come out and threaten government thinking that because they are professionals in essential services they can hold the government to ransom and which should not be the case,” he said.
He said Section 159 of the Labour Act states that “Where (a) the parties fail to agree to refer the dispute to voluntary arbitration; or
(b) the dispute remains unresolved at the end of the arbitration proceeding, either party intending to take strike action or institute lockout, shall give written notice of this to the other party and the Commission, with seven days after failure to agree to refer the dispute to voluntary arbitration or the termination of the proceedings”.
We should be ready to ensure that the law is applied to the latter at all times and it will solve some of these issues. GB