Doctors across Zimbabwe go on strike over pay, drug shortages

Doctors across Zimbabwe have gone on strike.
Doctors across Zimbabwe have gone on strike.

HARARE:  Doctors at public hospitals across Zimbabwe have gone on strike and will not return to work until the government meets their demands for better pay and working conditions, a spokesman for a doctors’ union said on Tuesday.

The action is the first major labour dispute under President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who replaced Robert Mugabe in November and whose main challenge is fixing Zimbabwe’s economy ruined by decades of severe mismanagement.

Cash shortages mean banks are forced to limit withdrawals, unemployment remains above 8%, and the government still struggles to pay workers on time which prompted frequent public sector strike actions under Mugabe.

“The main issue we have raised currently is that it does not make sense for us to continue working in hospitals that do not have any drugs or sufficient equipment,” said Mxolisi Ngwenya, spokesman for the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association, which represents more than 1,000 members.

Junior doctors in Harare went on strike on March 1. As of Monday, the labour action had spread to include all public hospitals in the country, Ngwenya said.

The government had not, as agreed four years ago, increased on-call allowances for doctors to US$10 (RM39) an hour from the current $1.50 (RM5.85), and has failed to fulfill other promises for better compensation and working conditions, Ngwenya said.

Junior doctors, who earn a basic monthly salary of $329 (RM1,284) before allowances, according to Ngwenya, were yet to get duty-free vehicles as agreed previously.

In neighboring South Africa, which attracts the most skilled labor from Zimbabwe, including health workers, junior doctors on internship earned the equivalent of $2,834 (RM11,058) last year, according to Business Day newspaper.

Health Minister David Parirenyatwa said the government was resolving some of the grievances by the doctors and urged them to return to work while waiting for the outcome of a meeting scheduled for Thursday morning.

In the past, the government has deployed army medics to work at major public hospitals when junior doctors went on strike.

At Parirenyatwa, the largest public hospital in the capital, hospital staff had to turn away some patients.

A nurse who only identified herself as Eunice said they were overwhelmed without the junior doctors. Most senior doctors run private practices.