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Doctors protesting in Harare ...

Zimbabwe’s Labour Court has ruled that the Ministry of Health should make further submissions in a matter in which it is seeking a determination on the 36-day industrial action by local doctors demanding higher salaries and improved conditions of service.

Striking doctors on Monday defied a government ultimatum to return to work.
Striking doctors on Monday defied a government ultimatum to return to work.

According to Doug Coltart, an attorney representing the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors’ Association (ZHDA), the government failed to make clear arguments in the Labour Court on why it is seeking an order to declare the strike either legal or illegal in terms of the local labour laws.

Coltart told reporters in Harare soon after court proceedings that the government should place a full record of today’s proceedings and other issues in court by Wednesday for a full hearing.

He claimed that the state attorney conceded that the doctors’ industrial action was a result of incapacitation and not a strike.

“The minister determined the preliminary point but failed to give reasons as to why she issued a show cause order. So, the matter has been sent back to the minister, number one to give reasons on why she issued the show cause order and number two to give a full record, to place a full record in court. So, what we are expecting in that record are full minutes of the hearing before the Labour Court including oral evidence which was backed by Dr. (Tawanda) Zvakada (ZHDA acting president) about the incapacitation of doctors.

Protesting doctors in Harare ...
Protesting doctors in Harare ...

“Doctors are saying we are not on strike, we are not unwilling to go to work but we are unable because we are incapacitated. That evidence was not laid before the court by the minister. The second thing what we are expecting to see in those minutes is that a concession was made by counsel for the Health Service Board to say that indeed doctors are incapacitated but they should go back to work anyway because other civil servants are doing so. With respect, once you make that concession that indeed doctors are incapacitated that’s the end of the matter. It’s not a strike, the doctors are simply unable to go to work.”

He said the Labour Court has made a determination that the necessary documents should be filed in the court Wednesday so that they can be inspected before a hearing is held on a date yet to be determined.

Striking doctors protesting in the capital, Harare, October 7, 2019

MacDonald Dzirutwe

HARARE (Reuters) - Striking Zimbabwean doctors defied a government ultimatum to return to work on Monday, after rejecting a 60% pay rise offer they say is not enough to keep up with soaring prices of basic goods.

Protesting doctors in Harare ...
Protesting doctors in Harare ...

The southern African nation’s economy is grappling with its worst crisis in a decade, with triple-digit inflation, rolling power cuts and shortages of U.S. dollars, medicines and fuel that have revived memories of the 2008 hyperinflation under late President Robert Mugabe.

The Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA), the union for junior and middle level doctors in the public sector, on Monday pulled out of the Health Apex Council that represents public health workers in negotiations with the government, saying it no longer served their interests.

The association said the government offer was “ridiculous” as it would take their monthly salaries to around 1,700 Zimbabwe dollars ($111), well below their demand of a 400% salary hike.

Striking doctors defy government ultimatum to return to work.
Striking doctors defy government ultimatum to return to work.

More than 100 of its members marched at the main Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare on Monday demanding higher pay and vowing not to return to work.

The doctors have been on strike for more than a month, which has seen some patients being turned away from public hospitals already struggling with shortages of medicines.

ZHDA said in a statement that the government was not willing to address their concerns but had instead responded with “intimidation and threats of disciplinary action or dismissals.”

“The will and desire is there but the means to execute their (the doctors’) duties does not exist,” it said.

Striking doctors in Zimbabwe
Striking doctors in Zimbabwe

Health Minister Obadiah Moyo, who on Saturday issued the ultimatum for doctors to return to work on Monday or face disciplinary action, said he could not immediately comment.

Tapiwa Mungofa, the ZHDA treasurer, later told reporters that the World Health Organisation and other United Nations agencies should help raise funding for Zimbabwe’s health sector and broker a solution to end the strike.

The doctors want their salaries indexed to the U.S. dollar because the Zimbabwe dollar is losing value against the greenback while earnings are being eroded by inflation, which the International Monetary Fund said stood at nearly 300% in August.

Doctors protesting in Harare
Doctors protesting in Harare

The government lifted the price of diesel and petrol by up to 27% on Saturday, which was followed by increases in the prices of goods like sugar, cooking oil and milk and transport.

Last week, President Emmerson Mnangagwa pleaded for time and patience to revive the economy.

Hopes that it would quickly rebound under Mnangagwa, who took over after Mugabe was deposed in a coup in November 2017, have faded fast, as Zimbabweans grapple with inflation that has eroded earnings and savings. (Editing by Tim Cocks and Susan Fenton)

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