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General News of Tuesday, 23 September 2003

Source: Graphic

NHIS: Government, Labour In Deadlock

A meeting held yesterday between a team of ministers and labour leaders in Accra over the use of part of workers’ social security contribution to support the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) ended in a deadlock.

While the labour leaders, led by Mr Kwasi Adu-Amankwah, the Secretary-General of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), maintained its stand that the use of the two and half per cent of workers contribution for the scheme was not in the interest of the workers, the team of ministers, led by Dr Kwaku Afriyie, the Minister of Health, also maintained that the deduction was in the interest of the workers and that it would not affect workers’ pensions.

The meeting, which lasted for almost two hours, was at the instance of President John Agyekum Kufuor after the labour unions had threatened to go on a nationwide demonstration to protest the deduction of the two-and-a-half per cent of workers’ contribution to support the NHIS.

Insiders at the meeting told the Graphic that the deliberations were cordial but each side strongly kept to its position.

Speaking in an interview after the meeting, Mr Adu-Amankwah said the meeting was deadlocked and labour would proceed with its demonstration tomorrow as planned. He said the labour front had thought the meeting would resolve the issue of the two-and-a-half per cent deduction but that was not to be, hence the stalemate in the negotiations.

“We have explained our position about what is in the law that we do not accept and until that issue is addressed, we will continue to protest,” said Mr Adu-Amankwah. He said what was necessary was for labour to register its protest and thereafter if things did not work well, they would consider the option of going to the law court.

He said organised labour warned Parliament not to pass the bill but it went ahead to do so. It was, therefore, up to labour to find ways to register its protest on the matter. “We will exercise all our democratic rights to ensure that the position is re-considered”, he maintained.

Health Minister, Dr Afriyie and Mr Yaw Barimah, Minister of Employment and Manpower Development, expressed their disappointment at the outcome of the meeting. They said the government was still committed to a dialogue and wondered why organised labour had taken a hard stand on the matter.

The Ministers said even though the President had signed the bill into law, it had not been gazetted and anything could happen should the parties be able to dialogue.

They maintained that the deduction was not going to affect the pensions of workers but would rather serve as a guarantee for the workers to get access to medical care. The ministers said the labour leaders had agreed that the cash and carry system was not the best and, therefore, the NHIS was the best alternative.

They said for them to now turn against the two-and-half per cent after they had been consulted on the matter, was unfortunate and wished that they would continue to dialogue on the matter.

For the past two weeks, the political barometer had risen as a result of agitation by organised labour that it would organise demonstrations and strikes if the government went ahead to implement the NHIS.

Meanwhile, the Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT), had stated that the pension benefits accruing to participants of the scheme would not be affected by the transfer of two and half per cent contribution to the NHIS. It submitted that the two and half per cent contribution could be used to waive or partially offset any contribution.

In a letter to the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs on Thursday, August 21, the SSNIT said every contributing member of the scheme should enjoy unfettered access to the benefits of the NHIS.

The document explained that “assuming all citizens are going to enjoy a minimum prescribed basic benefit under the NHIS, then those employees currently enjoying some of the employer sponsored medical reimbursement programme ought to be able to enjoy top-up benefits from their employers at reduced cost to the employers”.