Government warns striking doctors

THE Health Services Board (HSB) says it will take disciplinary action on the 553 striking doctors and radiographers after they disobeyed a 12-hour ultimatum to return to work, further straining negotiations between government and the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA).

by VENERANDA LANGA

Secretary for Health and Child Care Gerald Gwinji told journalists at a Press conference that the deadline expired at 0915 hours yesterday, adding that the striking doctors and radiographers now faced disciplinary action.

The HSB vice-chairperson Auxillia Chideme-Munodawafa defended the tough stance, saying it was the prerogative of Finance minister Mthuli Ncube to decide on whether to pay the striking doctors the amounts they were demanding, and not the HSB.

The 553 doctors and radiographers withdrew their services on December 1, but their job action was deemed illegal and un-procedural, resulting in government approaching the Labour Court on December 20 to resolve the matter.

“Most or all of the health workers who had withdrawn their labour have not reported to work in the timeframe stipulated in the disposal order by the Labour Court,” Chideme-Munodawafa said.

“Government is accordingly proceeding to institute disciplinary action against all health workers who participated in the unlawful collective job action,” the HSB said.

The Labour Court had ruled that the job action was illegal, saying the striking doctors and radiographers must return to work within 12 hours, and adding that they would not be paid for hours they were away from work.

The Labour Court also ruled that the HSB was entitled to take disciplinary action against the striking ZHDA members and that they should bear the Health ministry (applicant’s) full legal costs.

Gwinji admitted that the strike had an impact on the patients, adding that junior doctors and radiographers were critical, but he said some doctors continued to report for work.

“Indeed 553 striking doctors and radiographers is a large number, but we have close to 40 000 health workers in the system. However, junior doctors and radiographers are critical and certainly there is an impact,” Gwinji said.

Chideme-Munodawafa said a lot of issues that the striking doctors demanded had already been addressed through the bipartite negotiating forum, adding that drugs had been coming in batches after the Health ministry appealed to various partners.

But in a statement, the ZHDA castigated the Health ministry for rushing to the Labour Court when Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga had been roped in to negotiate with the doctors and end the impasse.

“To the best of our knowledge, a communication was made to VP Chiwenga regarding the grievances raised by the doctors, and hence, we are still waiting in anticipation for the response before any further deliberations are conducted.

“To this effect, we are suspending all negotiations with HSB and the Ministry of Health until such a time that an honest, comprehensive and satisfactory offer has been proffered through the bipartite negotiation panel,” the ZHDA statement read. They said if the HSB had not dragged the association before the Labour Court and allowed Chiwenga to provide oversight over the negotiations; the industrial action could have ended.

“HSB has negated and reversed all progress thus made to terminate the industrial action. Zimbabweans, for the first time in many years, are being deprived of their right to access basic quality healthcare services in the festive season.

“We blame the HSB for failing to manage the industrial action that has marked day 23 today (yesterday). After a nationwide consultation with our members, doctors have agreed not to return to work under hazardous and psychologically stressful working conditions, until their grievances are satisfactorily addressed.”

They said the HSB could not expect them to report back to duty without a salary and to raise the legal costs, adding that the whole issue smacked of a hidden political agenda.

“We fear that there is a hidden agenda and some officials at HSB are now politicising this industrial action to gain favours from those in higher offices instead of resolving the grievances,” the ZHDA statement read.

Meanwhile, the opposition MDC party said courts were not a solution to the doctors crisis.

“Any attempt by government to resolve the impasse though the courts is not only ill informed, but extends the period of crisis resolution,” MDC said in a statement yesterday.

“Having a court of law dealing with the legality of a job action does not entail that the problem has disappeared. In fact, the issues being raised by the medical practitioners are legit and reasonable. The doctors want the ratio between patients and clinical personnel reduced, drugs procured, health facilities improved, equipment sourced and medical supplies ensured.”

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