News of the decision of the National Labour Commission to compel doctors through a law suit to call off the current strike action which it describes as illegal hit me like a bad dream.
Surprisingly had this same NLC decided five weeks ago to muster both the resources and the courage to sue the Fair Wages and Salaries Commission (FWSC) in enforcement of its 2011 ruling, there would absolutely have been no strike action to begin with. Did I not sit in a meeting at which despite appreciating clear breaches on the part of the FWSC, the NLC whined and pleaded with the GMA to go ahead and sue the FWSC so that given their lack of resources, they would only provide secondary support? Showing no commitment to enforce its original rulings and watching somewhat helplessly until total breakdown, how does the NLC now find both the courage and the resources to rather sue the doctors and not the employer or his representative?
Reading through the press report of the NLC’s suit, two angles immediately come to mind. The first has to do with the fixation of getting the courts to “compel the doctors to call-off the strike.” Calling off the strike is easy. What becomes of the drivers of chronic industrial unrest in Ghana and on the health front in particular? It worries me greatly, that historically; many Ministers, government officials and heads of agencies that have a direct responsibility to address problems seem more fixated in strike actions being called off rather than proactively initiating and sustaining creative dialogue backed by concrete measures to address identified problems. Very often, there tends to be a gnawing distance between government officials and the labor unions. All it has taken has been chaotic breakdown in relations and then speaking to officials, one gets to appreciate how really little they know or have a pulse on the tensions that have been boiling for months. This distance needs to be closed as a matter of urgency!
It is as if everyone waits patiently until hell breaks loose and then we become taken not with how to address the underlying root causes, but rather how to get the doctors to call off the strike to enable us catch our precious sleep again. When in February the doctors called off a two day strike to create space for agreements to be implemented, how well did those concerned with the direct implementation of the memorandum of understanding utilize that opportunity? To my mind, not very much. Thriving on a crises –ridden agenda, both the FWSC and the NLC which have now found their way to court, went to sleep. Why? Because there was no strike, it appears.
The second concern pertains to the unsatisfactory piece meal manner in which the NLC addresses matters before its arbitration panels. One is often unable to tell whether it is sufficient lack of capacity to appreciate the issues at stake, sheer lack of application or fruitless hope that in ambiguity, problems will simply melt away. From time immemorial, the GMA has always spoken about market premium and the conversion difference, problematic definitions of which have led to some doctors experiencing deductions on their pensions. Consistently, the NLC rulings have remained silent on this aspect of the case. To the extent that current payment schedules arranged pertain to market premium and arrears accruing from same, the position of the NLC in its affidavit that “it has successfully met with all parties and has subsequently reached a Memorandum of Understanding for monies owed the respondent to be paid in installment” cannot be wholly accurate.
Admittedly, there are many things that could be done differently on all fronts and by all concerned parties. We are however at a dangerous point where some state agencies appear to be failing in their mandate leading to loss of confidence in their ability and/or willingness to address problems of the unions thus leading to predictable industrial unrest. Agencies like the NLC and FWSC are extremely tardy when addressing union interests while being extremely proactive when quenching the union interests and advancing employer interests becomes the matter at stake. Of all the things that need to change, this posturing must also change. If this doesn’t change, then the unions may always feel compelled to resort to what appears to be unruly methods which they may consider to be their only options, unfortunately.
If the National Labour Commission truly wants to be the final arbiter, then it must urgently learn to swing both ways. This current hypocrisy is not part of the solution to the prevailing crises, unless of course our only aim is to get doctors back to work, leave their concerns unaddressed and earn our precious sleep!
25th April, 2013