Zimbabwe doctors to defy government ultimatum to return to work

Zimbabwe doctors to defy government ultimatum to return to work
Crisis ... A nurse assists a mother and her child outside Harare Central Hospital as the country's public sector doctors began a strike in Harare, Zimbabwe, September 3, 2019 (REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo)
Published: 06 October 2019
 Striking doctors on Sunday vowed to press on with their job boycott, despite getting an ultimatum from health minister Obadiah Moyo to report for work on Monday or face disciplinary action.

The doctors said the government's offer of a 60 percent salary increase was "ridiculous".

"Doctors' salaries have lost buying power by a magnitude of 1,500 percent against a salary increment offer of 60 percent. For far too long, doctors have been subsidising the employer but they have used up all savings they had…," the Hospital Doctors Association said in a statement on Sunday.

The doctors also announced they had pulled out of the Health Apex Council, a body that negotiates with the government on behalf of 20 unions representing workers in the health sector.

"As doctors, we encounter many different challenges which are peculiar to us due to the nature of our work hence the need for the creation of a different new negotiating platform altogether," the doctors said.

Junior doctors currently earn $1,200 Zimbabwe dollars, and they say the 60 percent increment will only take their pay up to $1,700 – only enough to fill up a full tank for a regular SUV with diesel and buy 10kg of maize seed.

"The increment has already been eroded before it has been punched into the accounts as evidenced by the cost of fuel increasing on Saturday by 30 percent and Zesa tariffs which have now been reviewed at the prevailing interbank rate," the doctors said.

Zimbabwean workers were paid in United States dollars starting in 2009 after the country abandoned its hyperinflation-hit currency.

The central bank introduced a surrogate currency, bond notes and coins in 2016 ostensibly to deal with a problem of change, pegging their value at 1:1 to the United States dollar.

The bond by-and-large held, until a military coup in November 2017 which ousted former president Robert Mugabe, with his former deputy Emmerson Mnangagwa assuming the reins.

A disputed election last year diminished confidence in Zimbabwe's currency and by February this year, the 1:1 pegging to the United States dollar was no-longer sustainable, prompting the central bank to allow the bond to float against the United States dollar. Crucially, salaries for public sector workers – who are paid through the RTGS system, the electronic cousin of the scarce bond currency – were not adjusted to match the rapid rate slide.

Dr Anele Bhebhe, the secretary of the doctors' association told ZimLive on Sunday that they want the government to set the value of their salaries in United States dollars, and adjust the payments monthly to match the prevailing interbank market rate.

The government accuses doctors of abandoning their patients by going on strike, but the doctors – walking a tight legal rope – say they are not on strike but are "incapacitated". They say they have no means to lead a decent existence and go to work.

"Doctors countrywide are not enjoying this ongoing silent genocide and infringement on citizens' constitutional right to health brought about by the negligence of the employer," the doctors' statement added.

Moyo did not say what action would be taken against doctors who refuse to heed his call, amid moves by the government to pass new laws preventing doctors from going on strike.

Hospitals have been devastated by the ongoing strike which started on September 3, with only emergency cases being attended to by nurses and doctors from the military.
- ZimLive
Tags: Doctors,


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