Finance Minister Tom Marshall dismissed any notions Monday of the province referring an outstanding dispute with the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association (NLMA) to binding arbitration.
He also doused any thought of the premier personally getting involved to resolve the dispute.
NLMA president Dr. Patrick O’Shea told reporters Monday the association would be “more than willing to let a third-party, impartial panel determine the merits of both sides” and would accept the outcome.
Marshall, however, rejected that idea when he spoke to reporters at Confederation Building later in the day.
”We have been elected by the people of this province to govern the province for a period of four years,” Marshall said.
As minister of Finance and president of Treasury Board, he said it’s his responsibility to negotiate contracts with various groups.
“We’ve negotiated successfully over 30 collective agreements and we have to strike a balance between, on the one hand, providing our doctors with the salary and remuneration that they require so that they feel respected but, on the other hand, we have to pay a price that is responsible and reasonable and sustainable over the long term for the benefit of the taxpayers of the province.”
Marshall said he’ll “stand in the House and have to justify it to the people of the province,” but “an arbitrator will not be held accountable by anyone.”
O’Shea also said Monday, while the NLMA doesn’t agree with Premier Danny Williams’ understanding of the issues, it’s glad to see that he’s paying attention and weighing in publicly. He was referring to comments made by the premier on VOCM Radio and NTV Friday that the doctors could decide among themselves to reallocate $81 million in the latest offer to resolve the dispute over a two-tiered pay scale for salaried specialists.
The current base pay for about 150 salaried specialists is about $180,000 a year. But a group of about 60 pathologists and oncologists, who were given pay increases by government in 2008, currently receive about $255,000 a year. Government’s latest offer would raise the regular salaried specialists’ annual base pay to about $239,000 and the pathologists and oncologists base pay to about $276,000.
O’Shea said the premier’s suggestion that the NLMA could now take money from one group of doctors to fix the problems of another group will not work. He termed it another attempt by government to pit doctor against doctor.
But O’Shea said he would welcome the premier’s involvement in the negotiations to help resolve the dispute.
“I think he could bring a lot of things. We’d have to, perhaps, educate him a little bit on the intricacies of the deal because he hasn’t been sitting at the negotiating table as some of his other ministers are, but I think he has the power and the ability to make things happen as we’ve seen him do in other situations in the past,” O’Shea said.
Marshall responded to this call by reiterating that it’s his responsibility to negotiate agreements for the province.
“I have the confidence of the premier, as does Mr. Kennedy,” he said, referring to Health Minister Jerome Kennedy. “The premier is aware of what’s happening, he has a clear understanding of what’s happening here, let there be no mistake about that. I brief him, I speak to him daily,” Marshall said.
The minister also stood firm on government’s position that the deal on the table is a “generous” offer, at a cost of about $81 million to bring the total compensation package for the province’s 1,075 doctors to about $410 million.
The NLMA, meanwhile, will hold a special meeting for doctors tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the Health Sciences Centre main auditorium to discuss recent events and its next steps.
O’Shea said government’s latest offer will be sent to all physicians this week, with a deadline for votes to be returned by mail to the NLMA by Dec. 13. O’Shea wouldn’t say whether the NLMA board is recommending rejection of the deal.