Zim doctors end 40-day strike

Civil servants threaten similar action

11 January 2019 | Ekonomie
Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors' Association (ZHDA)

“It should not take 40 days with doctors on industrial action for the ministry of health and child care to act and restore normal service delivery in government health institutions."

Zimbabwean doctors have ended a 40-day strike following talks with the health ministry. The Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors' Association (ZHDA) said in a statement yesterday that the industrial action, which began on 1 December 2018, was meant to remind the relevant authorities that the healthcare sector was deteriorating and hence the need for urgent interventions.

"It is therefore, important to appreciate that, the MOHCC [ministry of health and child care] has made commitments with its employees to address these crippling factors and we can only hope that these commitments would be implemented in all honesty at the correct timeframe and as agreed, for the benefit of our patients and the country as a whole (sic)," the doctors said.

"We further state that it should not take 40 days with doctors on industrial action for the ministry of health and child care to act and restore normal service delivery in government health institutions."

The medical practitioners said there was a need for "consistent and continuous engagements" between doctors and the health ministry, in order to avoid the unnecessary interruption of service delivery.

Hard times

Despite their return to work, the doctors said their salaries had not been reviewed and their December ones were frozen "in this rough and ravaging economic environment", adding that it created a problem for staff returning to work. "Indeed, poor remuneration and the current fuel shortage remain threats that may spontaneously hinder our members from reporting to work daily and discharging quality health services to patients," ZHDA said. "That being said, our members have begrudgingly resumed work with effect from today, as dialogue continues."

The health ministry committed in writing that it would consistently improve the supply of medicines and medical and surgical sundries in public health facilities, said the doctors. It was further agreed that critical posts for doctors across central, provincial and district hospitals would be unfrozen.

"We hope these promises will be fulfilled with urgency, as it has been the culture of the health service board to go back on agreements before. We also continue to negotiate on outstanding issues like remuneration and working hours, and we hope we find common ground soon," ZHDA said. "Industrial action by doctors should not be the only language that brings about improvement in drug supply and conditions of service. Good dialogue, transparency, honesty and accountability should be incorporated to provide a platform that improves service delivery."

This follows the Zimbabwean government’s announcement on Wednesday of the commencement of disciplinary hearings against junior medical doctors who embarked on a month-long job action. Health and child care secretary Gerald Gwinji said the hearings "will be fair and transparent".

"As per the collective bargaining agreement, senior doctors have also been incorporated in the hearings as part of the tribunals and observers to ensure fairness and transparency to the whole process," Gwinji said. Disciplinary hearings started last Friday with government advising returning doctors to apply for salary advances if they were facing financial challenges.

On 22 December, the Labour Court declared the strike by Zimbabwean doctors illegal and ordered them to return to work.

New strike

Meanwhile, civil servants have announced that they will embark on a nationwide strike within the next 14 days if government fails to meet their wage demands. This comes after a crucial meeting they held with the government on Monday, with nothing tangible emerging out of the dialogue.

In a notice signed by Apex Council chairperson Cecilia Alexander, the agitated workers said the collective job action had been necessitated by its employer's continued failure to address their plight in areas such as salaries and other working conditions. It added that the challenges had been worsened by the skyrocketing cost of living.

Civil servants comprise about 600 000 of government workforce and are entitled to about US$300 million a month in salaries and wages. Updating journalists after Monday's indaba, acting public service minister July Moyo said the crisis-ridden government was going to reveal its offers based on demands placed before it by civil servants. "The statutory body, the Joint Negotiating Council (JNC), will fix the final negotiated agreements on the public service sector once the government has given them an offer," he said. Government is yet to respond to the notice by civil servants that they will go on strike. -Nampa/ANA

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