THE Health Apex Council which represents 21 associations of radiographers, senior doctors, junior doctors, nurses, pharmacy technicians, registered general nurses (RGNs), midwives, therapists and primary care nurses, is preparing to declare the incapacitation of its members following failure by the government to respond to its repeated calls for a salary review.
The health professionals are currently earning a US$200 flat allowance across the board and most of them receive a basic salary of ZW$26 133 (US$26), transport allowance of ZW$ 2 426 (US$2.40), housing allowance of ZW$ 2 776 (US$2.70), general allowance of ZW$5 483 (ZW$5.40) and special civil service allowance of ZW$ 5 483 (US$5.40).
While health workers are employees of the government, their employer is the Health Service Commission and not the Public Service Commission, therefore they are paid via a different arrangement from that of other civil servants.
That situation has therefore seen the health workers failing to have their salaries reviewed the last time they were done for civil servants in April.
During that last review, local currency salaries for civil servants were raised by 100% while the cushioning allowances were raised from US$200 to US$250, but this package did not include health workers.
The NewsHawks this week gathered that the Health Apex Council wrote a letter on 26 April to acting secretary of the Health Service Commission, Albert Mbengwa, complaining about the issue, but no remedy has been provided by the government, leaving the sector miffed to an extent of preparing to declare incapacitation.
The letter to Mbengwa signed by the Health Apex Council leader Dr James Sibanda, who took over from Dr Tapiwa Kusotera at that time, highlighted that the salaries of the body’s members had been eroded, but the pay has since further depreciated by over 600% since April.
Part of the letter ignored by the government which first complained about the exclusion of health workers in the April remuneration review done for civil servants reads: “Up to now no explanation has been given to Health sector about that exclusion. Furthermore the Health Apex wrote requesting an urgent HSBNP, up to now nothing has materialised the meeting is yet to happen. We request that the negotiations commence immediately. We appreciate the Health Sector Specific Allowances (on call, standby/call out, night duty, nurse managers and special health allowances).
“However, there is a group of non-medical personnel who don’t benefit from these allowances. Instead they get a special civil service allowance. Which begs the question are they health workers or not? “With the hyperinflation rearing its ugly head once again and that the premium between the auction rate and parallel market rate is now over 80%, health workers feel the cushioning allowance should now be increased substantially (by 100%) not marginally (25%) as offered to the rest of civil service. 100% remuneration review to ZWL emoluments from Deputy Director and below for all sectors wasn’t applied to the health sector.”
Dr Sibanda, who also leads the Zimbabwe Government Radiographers Association, further wrote: “Let it be put on record that the depreciation of ZWL has already surpassed that 100%. To put it into perspective, the price of a loaf of bread has jumped from ZWL900 to ZWL1 800 in supermarkets within a period of a month. How many loaves of bread does the basic salary buy per month? We also need an understanding of administration and in-service allowances as introduced.”
In an interview with The NewsHawks this week, Llyod Sarai, the Health Apex Council spokesperson, said the situation of the body’s members has become very sad.
“This is where we are heading (declaring incapacitation). We are suffering from serious segregation as Health Sector. In April we were left out when others were given 100% salary increase as well as USD50. We hope that the HSBNP will be convened in the shortest possible period. We wrote several letters asking the employer to address this anomaly but it seems our calls are falling to a deaf ear. Only on 15 June when the employer convened a bipartite negotiating meeting, this was after a year without talks. The talks did not yield anything as the employer did not bring anything meaningful to the table,” he said.
Sarai added: “This silence has left many health workers with no choice but to leave the country as these talks were their only source of hope. It is unfortunate that we are approaching yet another payday on Friday 14 July without any increment. So as Health sector we are still negotiating to correct the historical imbalances which will bring us to the April 2023 baseline before discussing about the June 2023 cost of leaving adjustment.”
“We also have a situation where some health workers are benefiting from neither health sector specific allowances nor what the rest of other civil servants will have been given. “These employees have been neglected for too long and this has created serious salary distortions in the ministry. This has left junior employees earning more than seniors, causing unnecessary disharmony in the ministry.
“As Health Apex Council we have been on several occasions questioning the manner in which the employer makes decisions that affect employee welfare without their involvement. This has many a time brought in half-baked solutions. We have other employees who are not benefitting from donor retention allowances. This was done notwithstanding the fact that as health sector we use a multidisciplinary approach.
“This discrimination has affected the inter-operability of the health delivery system. We want everyone to benefit from the cake even if they are to get a piece that is embracing the principle of Ubuntu (you can’t eat alone)” he said.
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.