PRESIDENT John Mahama has said government will negotiate in good faith with striking doctors on their conditions of service, but based on terms that are fiscally possible.
“I will not authorize any expenditure on wages and compensation not provided for in the budget,” he stated, pointing out that “fiscal discipline requires that not a single pesewa is spent on remuneration outside what has been budgeted for.”
Speaking at the 80th anniversary of the Ghana Registered Midwives’ Association in Accra yesterday, President Mahama stressed that government would not accede to demands that could collapse the Single Spine Pay Policy, and throw the economy out of gear.
Hinting of his resolve not to succumb to election year pressures, and the temptation to yield to demands by professional groups for increased remuneration, President Mahama said he was determined to hold the line, no matter what the political cost might be.
“Our people have sacrificed enough; we cannot afford another round of belt-tightening after the electoral cycle is over,” he declared, stressing that the current IMF extended credit facility should be the last time the country fell back on the Bretton Wood institution for any respite.
Taking note of ongoing negotiations on other categories of allowances at the Public Services Joint Negotiating Committee, the President stressed that any agreements reached in respect of allowances or conditions of services would have to be appropriately captured in the budget.
He said the policy to strictly follow the dictates of the budget as far as expenditure was concerned, applied to both Article 71 office holders and those on the Single Spine, saying that “it goes for the Presidency, as well as the lowest public sector employee”.
Medical doctors in the public sector are on strike over their service conditions, and are currently only attending to emergency cases, threatening to totally withdraw their services en masse if their demands are not met.
The government, which is negotiating with the medical doctors, has decried the strike action, especially when negotiations are ongoing, and asked them to return to work, saying their actions are illegal.
But the doctors have vowed never to return to work until they have seen a signed document by government, detailing their conditions of service.
President Mahama recalled that in 2012, during the implementation of the Single Spine Salary Structure, pressures from various groups led to the award of interim premiums and other compensatory allowances whose net effect ballooned the wage bill from about GH¢ 3 billion to GH¢ 8 billion.
That, he said, consumed nearly 73 per cent of total tax revenues in wages and compensation alone, the effect of which increment was still being felt on the economy.
“We have managed, without retrenching any public sector staff, to tame the impact of wages and compensation as a percentage of tax revenues from the high of 73 per cent to 49 per cent currently”.
As to why he could not give in to the demands by the about 2,800 public sector doctors, he said, “we are dealing with a matter of equity and principle here; there are linkages and relativities between all public sector groups.
“There are 598,000 other public sector workers organised in eleven” other professional groups lined up and just waiting to see what the doctors come away with from the negotiating table, before they put in their own demands.
“This will adversely affect the single spine pay policy, and could result in breaking the spine,” he stated, noting that a lot of effort had gone into implementing the new universal public service salary structure and nothing should be done to derail it.
Acknowledging the sacrosanct right of professional groups to negotiate, the President advocated that the negotiations between government and the medical officers should go on to arrive at an amicable resolution, albeit in an atmosphere devoid of coercion.
President Mahama expressed appreciation to the medical officers for keeping faith with the negotiating process, pledging that the government would negotiate in good faith and be transparent with information required to enable the Ghana Medical Association to determine what was fiscally possible and what was not.
Mr. Mahama lauded midwives in Ghana for the yeoman’s job they were rendering to the nation, noting that the achievements made in the MDGs Four and Five were largely due to the efforts of the midwives.
He pledged to build more midwifery training schools in all the regional capitals, and also expressed government’s readiness to support the career progression and enhancement of the skills of midwives.
Mrs. Joyce Jetuah, president of the Ghana Midwives Association, argued for the association to be granted bargaining power now that it was recognized as an autonomous institution.
She indicated that midwives could assist in improving access to health care if the government assisted them to set up maternity homes in the rural areas instead of re-engaging them after retirement to augment domiciliary midwifery in the country.
Mrs. Frances Day-Stirk, president of the International Confederation of Midwives, noted that Ghana had made strides in new born and maternal mortality reduction, but said more needed to be done.
She attributed the successes chalked to government intervention regarding the implementation of free maternal services, implementation of safer motherhood task force, and other initiatives.
Mrs. Day-Stirk advocated the training of at least 10,000 more midwives in the country to meet the population needs.
By Samuel Nuamah