Zimbabwe is bracing for an industrial action Friday by state doctors and nurses after the cash-strapped government only offered them $2 per day as transport fee after failing to pay their salaries and bonuses this month.
In a letter dated December 29, secretary for Health Dr. Gerald Gwinji urged chief executives of government hospitals and provincial medical directors to brace for the worst-case scenarios, saying: “Following the threat of work stoppage by some health workers, you are hereby requested to make contingency plans to ensure that all hospital critical areas are adequately staffed and remain functional during the said period January 1-5 2016.
“All institutions are required to provide support to health workers in critical areas by providing transport or bus fare.”
President of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association, Dr. Fortune Nyamande, says there is no going back on their industrial action as the money being offered by government to meet their transport demands is an insult.
“The figures which are being circulated are insulting and they are not even worth mentioning on air, because we understand that they are giving doctors $2 to fuel their cars so that they can go to work. How can a respectable person like a doctor or nurse go to a service station with that amount to fuel the car? It’s an insult and not well thought out.”
Dr. Nyamande says the promise by the government to pay health workers on the 5th of January is incensing them. “How are we supposed to survive? We were last paid on November 27, 2015”
SENIOR HEALTH OFFICIAL ON HOLIDAY
Reached for comment the executive director of the Health Services Board, Dr. Lovemore Mbengeranwa, said he was on holiday.
Dr. Mbengeranwa referred all further questions on salaries to Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa, who together with Health Minister, Dr. David Parirenyatwa, were not picking their mobile phones.
But permanent secretary in the Ministry of Finance, Dr. William Manungo, said he was not in a position to comment as he was driving. Voice of America’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe, however, failed to reach him again by the time of going on air.
Meanwhile, as the situation gets desperate, central bank chief Dr. John Mangudya met Tuesday with representatives of the public service.
Secretary general Raymond Majongwe of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe says Mangudya requested the meeting.
“It was at the behest of Dr. Mangudya. I would want to thank him whether he did it on his own or he was sent by the politicians but the most important thing is that there was dialogue.”
On the issue of bonuses Majongwe says it is clear from their interaction with the central bank chief that there are bound to be very long delays.
CENTRAL BANK CONFIRMATION
Dr. Mangudya confirmed holding the meeting saying they are routine as he prepares for his Monetary Policy Statement next month.
Workers though said they would have wanted officials from the Ministry of Finance to be present. Dr. Mangudya acknowledged that it would have made a lot of sense if the officials attended the meeting.
At the same time, in a statement, Public Service Association chairperson, Jeremiah Bvirindi, said government’s inability to communicate effectively had made things worse and created an atmosphere of mistrust between the employer and workers.
He said government should be warned that an industrial action is almost inevitable, saying “while we understand the hard times facing government, we expect continuous engagement with our employer on issues of mutual benefit to both parties. At this juncture we are finding it difficult to convince our members to be calm at this sad development.”
Education Minister and Acting Labor Minister Lazarus Dokora said government is ready to engage civil servants and denied allegations that cabinet ministers are not willing to engage with workers.
BALOONING CIVIL SERVICE
The number of government workers increased from about 315,000 in 2009 to about 550,000 in 2014 and with government coffers dwindling due to the economic crisis, the situation is set to worsen.
Speaking ahead of his 2015 national budget presentation, Chinamasa admitted to International Monetary Fund (IMF) officials that he was embarrassed that staff costs were gobbling up about 75 percent of government revenues.
"I am embarrassed that our wage bill is some 76 percent of whatever revenue we receive. It's not good, it's not sustainable," said Chinamasa during a meeting with IMF official, Domenico Fanizza.