There seems not to be an end in sight for the ailing health system in Zimbabwe as the government takes a hardline against the strike.
Nurses at Zimbabwe government hospitals who have been on strike for almost two months, were struck off the July payroll in a move union leaders described as cruel.
Zimbabwe Nurses Association (ZINA) president, Enock Dongo, said that the nurses will continue with their job action, saying the withholding of their salaries will not deter them.
The health workers have been on strike for almost two months now, demanding payment of their salaries in U.S. dollars and that they are provided with personal protective equipment (PPE).
They now want to meet with the newly appointed Minister of Health and Child Care, Constantino Chiwenga, who also doubles up as the vice-president of the country.
“They decided to use punitive ways of addressing the issue hoping that the nurses would flock back to work. The nurses are still striking. The withdrawal of their salaries has further incapacitated them. They are now living in poverty as they cannot buy food or pay rent,” Dongo said.
He said government had invoked the ‘no work no pay’ principle to block their salaries, noting that they had not taken any legal action against government’s decision to withhold their salaries.
“Their action was too harsh because they acknowledged that the issues being raised by the nurses are genuine. What we can only do now is to appeal to the corporate world to help those nurses whose salaries have been blocked,” he said.
Dongo said the government had not taken any steps to address their grievances, noting that the skeletal staff that is attending to emergency cases does not have adequate PPE and are exposed to the coronavirus.
The country’s biggest labour umbrella body, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), expressed dismay at the blocking of the nurses’ salaries, saying the move by the government was uncalled for.
“Instead of resolving the issues being raised, government is taking a hard position that doesn’t help at all. Dismissing the nurses or removing them from the payroll cannot be an ideal solution to deal with the situation in the healthcare system because it is the citizens who will suffer if hospitals don’t have healthcare workers,” said Japhet Moyo, the ZCTU Secretary General.
Moyo added that the move was a serious violation of the workers’ right to strike.
“We are not sure what legislation this government is using to terminate or remove striking nurses from the payroll, but generally the right to strike is encapsulated in Conventions 87 and 98. Worse still, the government doesn’t have the capacity to replace these nurses and doctors.”
The permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Air Commodore Jasper Chimedza, refused to comment on the issue, referring all questions to the minister, who was not immediately available for comment.
The vice-president-cum-minister has remained mum on the nurses’ strike since his appointment to the health portfolio one week ago. His stated ambition, as reported by the state media, is to turn the health sector in the country around.
He was speaking at Hippo Valley estates in the eastern province of Masvingo during a tour of winter maize on Wednesday.
“Things will never be the same again. We are restructuring and reforming our health delivery system. We want to rebuild the structures from village to referral level. Things will never be the same again, but we must work together,” the state media quoted him as saying.
Both Chiwenga and Chimedza are recent appointees to the health ministry. Vice-president Chiwenga does have a strike smashing past: in April 2018, he fired all striking health workers at the time, calling them “deplorable and reprehensible”.
Last month, 13 nurses and union representatives were arrested by police in Harare after they staged a demonstration demanding better wages and working conditions.