As the national doctor’s strike in Papua New Guinea enters it’s fifth day, the government official in charge of industrial disputes says the door to egotiations is still open.
The Secretary for Personnel Management John Kali says the government has honoured its agreements with the doctor’s until now, and says the doctors have no reason to go on strike.
But spokesman for the doctor’s union says that now only negotiations at the ministerial level may be able to resolve the impasse.
The Secretary of the National Doctor’s Union Sam Yockopua says a meeting is scheduled for 3pm in Port Moresby with relevant ministers.
But he says that if the meeting fails, then the union will remove even then skeleton cover currently available at public hospitals.
The doctors’ union has also raised the possibility of mass resignations, should negotiations fail.
Earlier this afternoon, the Secretary for Personnel Management John Kali spoke with Pacific Beat.
He maintains the doctor’s cannot justify taking strike action.
Presenter: Janice Rogers
Speaker: John Kali, PNG’s Secretary for Personnel Management
KALI: Well, I think there’s some misunderstanding on that. There was actually an industrial agreement, a three year industrial agreement that covered the period 2007 to 2009 and all the provisions under that industrial agreement have been fully implemented in terms of a work value study that was to be undertaken by the Health Department and the National Doctors and the Department of Personnel Management. The consequence of that work value study major reclassifications emanated and those reclassifications resulted in doctors moving up by one or two grades and back payments were made on those reclassifications to 1st January, 2007. So doctors actually received a massive salary back payments during the period May and June of 2010. The other thing that we agreed to do in January, 2010, was to develop a new industrial agreement which would replace the industrial agreement 2007 to 2009 and this new industrial agreement would take effect from January, 2010, to cover the period 10, 11 and 12.
They were proposing certain things to be in the new industrial agreement to replace the old one, which I felt had serious policy and financial implications and so I said could we negotiate this carefully so that any matters that we agreed to do not have any serious flow-on implications to other sectors in the public service and the public interest and the National Doctors President as a consequence of the memorandum of understanding signed on the 11th January, 2010, was required to serve a log of claims, to form the basis to negotiate a new industrial agreement to the secretary of the Department of Personnel Management and to this day, I still have not received any formal log of claims from the National Doctors Union.
ROGERS: We have actually spoken to the President of the National Doctors Association, Dr Kauve Pomat and he says he has made a log of claims and he’s going as far as saying on air that you’re not telling the truth on this matter?
KALI: Well, I’m not lying, I’m not lying about this, because I have not received any nor have a recorded anything in my office that he talks about as log of claims, because what he presented to the Secretary for Health and not to me is a proposed memorandum of agreement which he wants me and the secretary of health to sign off and I say to him that the matters which are contained in the memorandum of agreement must be properly negotiated in the form of a log of claims to be submitted by him to me before we can commence negotiations and then when we reach agreement, we then develop a memorandum of agreement which is to take effect from January 20, to 11 and 12 to cover that three year period.
ROGERS: Is there any sense here that between you there’s some splitting of hair whether it’s a log of claims or a memorandum of understanding. It seems surprising that negotiations have gotten so bad that we’re now looking at a national strike over the issue. Why has it deteriorated so rapidly?
KALI: But you know, as public officials of registered industrial organisations, they are required to follow certain processes in order to maintain industrial harmony and if they’ve done it through the secretary of health. The secretary of health only delivered this to me last week on the 22nd March at 2 pm and even though the log of claims were not from the president of the National Doctors Union, I’ve accepted that as a log of claims from the NDA and have progressed a letter from my office to him to say look, these are the matters that you want to be contained in the MOA, so lets commence negotiations now.
ROGERS: We’ve also had reports that the Health Minister, Mr Sasa Zibe, has spoken on the issue saying that yourself and the Health Secretary, Dr Clement Malau, are to blame for the current crisis and he’s gone as far or the reports he’s gone as far as suggesting you should consider your jobs over the issue. How do you respond to that?
KALI: Well, he’s the state minister. I’m not going to argue with him in public on this matter. He’s got the right to say whatever he likes. But let me put it this way, the health minister and my minister, Minister for Public Service and the deputy prime minister were fully briefed last Tuesday as soon as I received the log of claims through the secretary of health. I went to parliament and briefed the three ministers explaining to them the background and some of the contents of the log of claims and assured them I was going to fully respond to the log of claims and they were happy with the position that I have taken. I’m surprised by the minister of health’s position now.
ROGERS: And you’re saying now that you do have the log of claims. What stops you from acting upon that……………..?
KALI: I have, I have acted upon it. I have responded to the log of claims like I said and have requested the secretary of health to organise a meeting and I’ve also requested the chairman of the industrial tribunal to convene a compulsory conference where all the parties are tasked to appear before the tribunal, so that we can try and reconcile and see if we can negotiate before a third party a settlement. But before all this could happen, the doctors went on strike last week, even though they had been instructed by the industrial registrar, that because there was no evidence of an industrial dispute, that she rejected their request to conduct a secret ballot. So without conducting a secret ballot, the doctors proceeded anyway to have a strike action.
ROGERS: At the moment, you’ve or at least the government is taking legal action against the strike. Is that the main option that you have now to try and break the strike or are you considering more compromise?
KALI: The reason that the government took the action to stop them from striking was purely to let the doctors know what they were doing was illegal and to restrain them from taking an illegal strike action and to encourage them to continue dialogue and negotiations with myself and the secretary of health. But because the other reason being that all avenues for dispute resolution have not been fully exhausted. As you know, in our industrial machinery, where negotiations fail, there is the avenue for compulsory conference and where compulsory conference fails, there’s the avenue for arbitration is available. So doctors know these avenues, so why are they on strike and what’s stopping them from justifying their case before me, the tribunals and so on and so forth?