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Minister of Health :Alex Segbefia

Doctors defy Gov’t order

Source: Daily Guide

The Ghana Medical Association (GMA) yesterday defied the directive by the Health Minister, Alex Segbefia, to call off their three-week strike and resume work.

The doctors, based on the directive of the minister, were expected to resume Outpatient Department (OPD) and Emergency Services for negotiations of their conditions of service to resume.

Unconfirmed report says government may want to explore the option of terminating the appointments of the striking doctors and possibly replace them with 177 Cuban doctors expected in the country anytime soon.

The government, through the Minister of Employment and Labour Relations, Haruna Iddrisu, has already made it clear that it will not negotiate with the doctors until they resume work and that their salaries are to be stopped.

However, a visit by DAILY GUIDE to the OPDs and emergency centres of the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital (KBTH), Ridge and the La General Hospitals showed that the facilities were empty.

Some heads of public health institutions confirmed receipt of an official letter from the Ministry of Health on the directive for the doctors to go back to work, but the heads were still helpless as there was no doctor at work.

The health minister had directed that if by today the doctors refused to heed the directive, the institutional heads should compile their names and submit them to the ministry; but it was not clear what action Mr Segbefia intended to take.

The GMA fought back yesterday with a news release saying they were not going to be intimidated.

In a statement jointly signed by the GMA President, Dr Kwabena Opoku Adusei, and General Secretary Dr Frank Serebour, the association said it was unfortunate that the minister in one breath would appeal to doctors to return to work and in another, issue ultimatums and threats through letters and administrative fiats to the various institutional heads.

It stated emphatically that “The threats and ultimatums do in no way water down our resolve in seeking for proper documented and negotiated conditions of service.

“All members, including those working in the district hospitals, should stick to the roadmap and continue to attend to only in-patients while withdrawing out-patient and emergency services and stay tuned for directions from leadership.”

The association added that its members were in full support of the ongoing strike, debunking any allegation of cracks in it (association).

It said during the extraordinary meeting held last week, at no point did any member(s) of the GMA indicate that they did not support the action.

“The section of membership that is purported to have voted against the action never did so; they only suggested a variation in the action (Reinstatement of Emergency Service for two weeks only) which was not accepted by the overwhelming majority present,” GMA stated.

Responding to the issues raised at the news briefing held by the health minister, the doctors noted that as far as they were concerned, the ongoing strike action is not illegal.

They could not understand why it is only when doctors withdraw their services that they are described as being essential and thus should not undertake such an action.

“How come that the so-called essential services do not deserve conditions of service as stipulated in the Labour Act?” GMA asked.

It said its firm belief is that if there is any illegality, the Government of Ghana first perpetrated the illegality on the doctors by employing them without providing them with conditions of service, “which is a violation of the Labour Act.”

According to the Labour Act 2003, three days after an employee of an essential service has brought up a complaint, measures must be put in place to resolve it.

It further states that if nothing can be done within the three days, then there is a 14-day period within which all arrangements must be made to resolve it. If that doesn’t work, then there should be compulsory negotiations.

Dr Adom Winful, former president of the GMA, speaking on a local radio station, said there was little the National Labour Commission (NLC) could do to resolve the impasse between the striking doctors and government.

“Why are we sitting here and the NLC has kept quiet on this important issue till date? They haven’t come out with any document, statement or anything; they are quiet. The NLC has been quiet about this important issue till date,” he observed.

He said the commission had consistently failed to enforce its own rules and questioned its silence in the ongoing impasse.

He said an example was when the NLA awarded cost against government in favour of GMA but they had not been able to enforce their own ruling, adding that they could not therefore come back and talk to the GMA as a credible arbitrator.

“The GMA has no qualms with the ministry of health bringing Cuban doctors into the country to provide healthcare for Ghanaians. However, it is important to note that these Cuban doctors are not engaged for free,” the doctors said concerning the Cuban doctors who are expected to come and support the healthcare delivery system.

“The irony of the matter is that they are indeed better paid than their Ghanaian counterparts and are engaged under proper conditions of service, which include fully furnished accommodation, free utilities, fuel, free healthcare and air ticket to travel once a year back home to visit their families.

“The question the GMA will like to ask is, why is the Ghanaian doctor discriminated against even in his country by our own government?” they queried.

The GMA has called on all its members to stand up and be counted. It has urged them not to allow the minister to use them as bargaining chips in the fight for conditions of service.

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