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Nurses pile pressure on Mnangagwa

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Health Apex Council declares strike

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THE Zimbabwe Health Apex Council, a grouping of 23 associations of healthcare workers, has declared a strike, The NewsHawks can reveal.

BRENNA MATENDERE

The development follows a week of back-and-forth consultations by the associations with the government over deteriorating working conditions, including worthless salaries and the absence of consumables at major public hospitals.

As earlier reported by The NewsHawks, the health workers under the banner of the Zimbabwe Professional Nurses Union (ZPNU) led by Robert Chiduku issued a two-week ultimatum to government demanding an improvement in wages and solutions to other grievances.

The strike by the healthcare workers is likely to trigger industrial action by other sectors in the civil service such as teachers who are now reeling under grinding economic hardships caused by inflation-eroded salaries.

Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors’ Association president Kudzanai Muzenda also wrote to Health Services Board chairperson Dr Paulinus Sikosana demanding improvement in salaries and provision of basic consumables necessary for the treatment of patients as well as medicines.

After being snubbed by the government on these requests, the Zimbabwe Health Apex Council, in a letter dated Friday 17 June (2022) signed by the body’s leader Tapiwanashe Kusotera and addressed to the HSB chairperson Sikhosana, announced a strike beginning 20 June.

The Health Apex Council represents senior doctors, junior doctors, nurses, pharmacists, radiographers and community health volunteer workers.

Part of the body’s letter reads: “Following our meeting on the 17th of June 2022 at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals, attended by the health workers’ association representatives, it was unanimously agreed that as the government health workers, represented by the health worker association leaders, here undersigned, after having made numerous attempts to engage the employer with no success, do hereby notify your office our state of incapacitation and the subsequent withdrawal of service (by) the government health workers effective Monday 20 June 2022.”  

The Health Apex Council outlined the reasons for the strike, firstly the closure of negotiation space with the government.

“It is important that we remind you that we have not had a bipartite meeting since 2021. This is despite our repeated efforts to engage the board. We have written to you more than 5 times requesting a meeting to avail,” the letter reads.

The health workers’ supreme body also said it had resolved to have its members down tools after the government rejected its demand for salaries to be paid in United States dollars in order to hedge them against the current galloping inflation.

The body again made it clear to the HSB that the impending strike has also been necessitated by the government’s failure to review non-claimable health sector-specific allowances.

“The board (Health Service Board) failed to facilitate the timeous disbursement of the donor retention allowances. The board has previously communicated that this was at an advanced stage. However, no meaningful progress has been made towards disbursements. The allowances ceased in 2020,” further complained the health workers.

The health professionals lamented the government’s failure to review upwards the Covid-19 allowances under which the least-paid staffer gets ZW$3 000, which they now deem “negligible”.

In 2018 when nurses went on strike there was a huge blow in the health sector, with citizens dying at public hospitals after failing to get urgent medical services.

Constantino Chiwenga, the Health minister who doubles as Vice-President and is a former army general, employed a militant approach towards the industrial action by firing 16 000 of the nurses who had downed stethoscopes.

The move however backfired and the nurses who had been fired were reinstated.

There were more casualties in July 2020 when the police arrested 12 nurses protesting outside state hospitals demanding to be paid in United States dollars after galloping inflation eroded their salaries.

In response to the letter by doctors earlier in the week, Health Service Board acting executive director Anglebert Mbengwa had rejected the US dollar salary demand.

Part of the response reads: “It is noted that you have requested for salaries to be pegged against the United States dollars in order to cushion doctors from the rising prices… You may note that government position as communicated in previous bipartite engagements is that all public sector salaries can only be paid in local currency.”

“You may further be advised that the board recognizes the need to review salaries for health workers in local currency. Consultations with regards to this are currently underway with stakeholders…,” Mbengwa wrote.

In another letter dated 17 June 2022 adressed to ZPNU leader Chiduku, Mbengwa again rejected nurses’ demand for US dollar salaries.

In an interview with The NewsHawks, the ZPNU secretary-general Chikobvu confirmed the communication on the strike notice and said the industrial action was justified after the employer failed to address grievances raised in the last two weeks by the nurses’ body.

The ZPNU represents registered general nurses (RGNs), midwives and primary care nurses countrywide but has a strong membership in Matabeleland and the Midlands where it is based.

However, Chikobvu said they will not be deterred.

He told The NewsHawks that the HSB had been dodging nurses’ grievances by giving endless excuses to sit at the negotiating table with the leadership of the health workers.

“We want government to come to the negotiating table with our Health Apex Council, which they have been avoiding since two years ago. We have legitimate demands, especially that we are getting our salaries in RTGS in a hyperinflationary environment,” he said.

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