Court Bars Chiwenga From Interfering With Nurses’ Work Conditions

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By Staff Reporter

NURSES have scored a major victory against Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, after the High Court Friday barred the substantive health minister from forcing the health workers to return to full-time shift work.

Nurses in public hospitals and clinics early this month approached the High Court through the Zimbabwe Nurses Association (ZINA) seeking an interdict against a decision by Chiwenga ordering the removal of flexible working hours, commonly as flexi-time.

Chiwenga doubles as health minister.

Flexi-time was introduced as a result of a collective bargaining agreement in January 2019 to allow nurses and doctors to report for duty two or three times per week in view of their low remuneration.

However, Chiwenga – upon assuming the position of health minister – scrapped the agreement, prompting the nurses to approach the High Court seeking legal recourse.

High Court judge, Justice Martin Mafusire agreed Friday there are valid concerns raised by the health workers relating to their incapacitation and lack of Covid-19 personal protective equipment (PPE).

In arriving at the ruling, Justice Mafusire noted the government did not make any significant improvements in the working conditions of nurses to warrant the removal of flexi-time.

Flexi-time was expected to lapse in April 2019 had the government reviewed upwardly, the nurses’ salaries.

“It is common cause that no review of remuneration was carried out in April 2019 as had been envisioned or at any time thereafter,” the judge said in his ruling.

“Instead, in August 2019, the government made a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) on nurses’ basic salaries and allowances of between 50% and 76% on a sliding scale effective 1 August 2019.

“There was another BNP agreement on 28 August 2019. On flexi-time, the agreement was inconclusive.”

The court that after these developments, there were two attempts by the government to end flexi-time which ended in deadlock, only for Chiwenga to issue a unilateral order bringing an end to the arrangement.

In the court’s eyes, this was unfair.

“The next development was a directive by the third respondent (Chiwenga). It is one development that sparked the legal confrontation. The spirit of negotiation and compromise only seemed broken by the third respondent’s directive on October 19, 2020.

“That directive seemed incongruous to what had prevailed before. The applicant (ZINA) cannot be accused of inaction. It called for dialogue. That seemed quite in line with precedent. It was in line with the spirit and letter of the law. Only after a deadlock or an impasse had manifested did the applicant come to court. Any reasonable person can see that it was time to act,” the judge noted in his ruling.

In Casu, respondents undoubtedly find themselves between a hard place and a rock. They are in an invidious position. Having analysed the BNP agreements at length, I come to the conclusion that the applicant’s main case is not without merit. The application succeeds. An order is hereby granted in in terms of the draft,” ruled Justice Mafusire.