BY HARRIET CHIKANDIWA
JUSTICE minister Ziyambi Ziyambi has defended the Health Services Bill in Parliament, saying it will improve the lives of public health workers.
The Health Services Amendment Bill is now at the second reading stage in the National Assembly.
Health workers in the country view the Bill as repressive as it restricts the right of health workers to engage in collective job action, and proposes a punishment of up to three years for strikes.
On Tuesday, Ziyambi said: “I am pleased to bring you a Bill that is very important for the better delivery of public health services, it will amend the Health Services Act to bring it into line with the Constitution and improve the conditions of health service workers.”
Ziyambi noted that the Health Service Board, which was created by the Health Services Act in 2005, was supposed to fix the minimum conditions of service of health workers and health service standards at government hospitals throughout the country.
“Under that Act, each government hospital had its own hospital management board which could hire and fire staff including professional staff. Now we have noticed that there is too much surrendering of responsibility by the board to the hospital management boards and too little co-ordination between them.”
When the Bill is passed into law; no health staff can be hired or fired at government institutions without permission from the Health Services Board, he said.
“Not so long ago, we saw that the public health service was affected by strikes, walk-outs and refusal of service by public health workers. They were in many cases misled by union representatives who promised that they could achieve the impossible that is to say to compel the government to give them conditions that were beyond the capacity of government’s financial ability to offer,” Ziyambi said, adding that government valued its public health service workers.
“They, like other workers in the public sector, are entitled to decent working conditions and government will never stop hearing their reasonable grievances about their material well-being, but we must balance the aspiration with the reality that in any State, the delivery of affordable public health services is a basic public health good that cannot be withdrawn from our people because of a labour dispute,” he said.
Ziyambi also pointed out that the law will declare health services as essential, which means labour in the sector cannot be withdrawn through industrial action.
“Clause 5 of the Bill is a very important clause in this connection, it makes it clear that the calling of a health service worker is not simply a job but a vocation to help, heal and save the lives of our people. It goes on to say that even during a collective job action, a member of the health sector is under an obligation to provide the professional skill, expertise, care and service to patients in a medical emergency or needing critical or intensive care.”
“Health service workers who breach these fundamental obligations will face professional disciplinary proceedings, just like any other health service worker in the private sector will face the same,” said Ziyambi.
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