Government yesterday swiftly moved to avert a crippling strike by its overworked public hospital doctors and offered to open up 250 new posts for junior doctors and 2 000 posts for nurses, but the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA), dismissed the offer as piecemeal and threatened to continue with its work stoppage starting today.
In an interview after yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, Health minister David Parirenyatwa said: “We have been negotiating with the ministry of Finance for posts since November and so we have been offered 250 posts for doctors and 2 000 posts for nurses. This is a welcome move.
“I am urging them not to go ahead with the industrial action. We need to look after our patients. This is solved by negotiations.”
But, ZHDA members have vowed to go ahead with their indefinite strike today to press the government to, among other issues, retain their contracts upon completion of their internship and revise upwards their on-call allowance.
Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors’ Association (ZHDA) president Edgar Munatsi said negotiations had not yielded anything concrete.
“We were told that Treasury would be approached for a possible extra budget allocation but we have not seen anything in writing and so we are going ahead today with the strike,” he said.
Early this week, ZHDA sent out a circular to its members telling them to go on industrial action from today until their concerns have been addressed.”In light of the recommendations gathered from the nationwide consultations and guided by the notice and petition served to the Health minister and the Health Service Board (HSB) more than two weeks ago, the association wishes to announce with effect from February 15, there shall be a fully-fledged nationwide industrial action,” the circular read.
“All doctors from the consultant level upwards are advised to co-operate, as this historic action will prevent the ensuing cancerous destruction of our profession.”
The long standing tiff between the doctors and the ministry came to a head when the government announced it would no longer employ them upon completion of the two year internship, rendering many jobless. The doctors, in response, had implored the government to either not terminate their contracts or give them open practising certificates.
The issue of on call allowances is also another contentious issue. They want it revised to $720 from the current $288 for the lowest paid doctor.
“The association is puzzled by the lipstick approach from the Health ministry, to honour the agreed on call allowances with our previous leadership. Our doctors, including well-trained consultants, still travel to work on public transport despite the earlier promise to unveil a motor vehicle duty-free facility to the sector,” the doctors said.
The doctors are also demanding that the HSB urgently implement the agreed duty-free car imports framework for them.
Contacted for comment on the strike, HSB executive chairman, Lovemore Mbengeranwa said: “The issues are being discussed at board level. Recommendations were made and the (Health) minister (David Parirenyatwa) will make an announcement soon.”
The strike comes at a time when the health delivery system in the country is on its knees, with many public health facilities facing severe drug outages and a depleted, demoralised workforce.