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Health Workers Down Tools Amid Zimbabwe Economic Crisis

Nurses staging protests in Bulawayo on Thursday. (Bathabile Masuku)

Thousands of health workers in Zimbabwe have downed their tools, demanding payment of salaries in United States dollars, just less than 24 hours after President Emerson Mnangagwa’s government announced a 50 percent cost of living adjustment and coronavirus COVID-19 allowances of up to US$75.

Nurses protest at the United Bulawayo Hospitals in Zimbabwe. (Bathabile Masuku)
Nurses protest at the United Bulawayo Hospitals in Zimbabwe. (Bathabile Masuku)

The workers affiliated to the Health Apex, a negotiating arm for health professionals, said nurses, junior and senior doctors, radiographers, midwives and others won’t return to work until their grievances are met.

In a letter to the Health Service Board, the workers said, “The Healthcare workers demand that salaries revert to the 1st of October 2018 digits that were quoted in USD which is a stable currency that can store value of that salary. In that way, pensions, savings, medical aids, funeral policies will not continue to be eroded.

“This letter serves to inform you that the health care workers as you might have witnessed have already taken matters into their hands and have withdrawn their services. Therefore we would like to officially communicate as the Health Apex that health workers have withdrawn their services with immediate effect until our demands have been met.”

Nurses down tools amid economic crisis in Zimbabwe and rising cases of COVID-19. (Bathabile Masuku)
Nurses down tools amid economic crisis in Zimbabwe and rising cases of COVID-19. (Bathabile Masuku)

The health workers said they are too incapacitated to report to work due to low salaries and poor conditions of service.

“The Health Apex position suggested a need for a Cost of Living Adjustment in the second quarter of 2020. Sadly, up to now, no formal communication has been received from the employer by way of writing … The socio-economic situation has continued to deteriorate with the inflation rate (year on year) and exchange rate reaching over RTGS(Real Time Gross Settlement)90 to 1 USD.

“The bread basket for a family of six as measured by the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe is now pegged at ZWL8,500. The current ZWL3,000 salaries can’t sustainably take care of the families of health care workers under the prevailing socio-economic situation.”

Nurses protest in Bulawayo. (Bathabile Masuku)
Nurses protest in Bulawayo. (Bathabile Masuku)

They rejected salary increases of up to 50 percent offered by the government and COVID-19 allowances.

“We have noted with great concern the circular on various media platforms that the government has offered USD75 as COVID-19 allowance across the board and this is applaudable as this is a global trend during this pandemic. However, we as health care workers await for a communiqué based on CBA on our allowances pegged in United States dollars. Our members have rejected the current offer of USD75 with the contempt it deserves.”

In the letter signed by 14 leaders of various health organizations, the Health Apex expressed its dismay over the nonpayment of Health Sector Specific Allowances that were promised by the government early this year and backdated to January 2020.

Nurses staging protests over low pay in Zimbabwe. (Bathabile Masuku)
Nurses staging protests over low pay in Zimbabwe. (Bathabile Masuku)

Reacting to the workers’ strike, Dr. Paulinus Sikosana, chairperson of the Health Service Board, said they have received the letter written by the employees and “we are currently looking into their grievances.”

Sikosana said the healthcare workers’ demands for payment of salaries in United States dollars “may not be achievable due to financial constraints.”

Members of the Zimbabwe National Army this week ordered residents of Bulawayo to loot goods in shops and leave the city’s central business district, saying they too are living from hand to mouth.

In a statement, the army dismissed suggestions that the soldiers went on strike saying they were, instead, engaged in their normal duties of assisting the police in enforcing the COVID-19 regulations.

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