By Anna Chibamu
PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa has signed into law the heavily criticised Health Services Bill which takes away the rights for public sector health workers to strike.
The new law criminalises any collective job action which goes beyond 72 hours, and any member of the Health Service who breaches the Act shall be liable for a fine and a prison sentence not exceeding six months or both.
The signing comes after health workers were locked in a protracted fight with the government over poor salaries last year.
Thousands of nurses and doctors at state-run hospitals went on strike last year demanding a hefty raise and wages in U.S. dollars due to a slide in the local currency and steep inflation that eroded the value of their earnings.
An exodus of doctors and nurses has left Zimbabwean hospitals understaffed, with over 4,000 health workers leaving the country since 2021, the country’s Health Services Board said in November.
Many nurses in Zimbabwe earn less than $100 a month.
According to the new Health Service Amendment Act 2022, public health employees will still be expected to work even during the time they are on strike.
“Notwithstanding anything in the Labour Act (Chapter 28:01): the Health Service shall be deemed as an essential service referred to in section 65(3) of the constitution; and no collective job action, whether lawful or unlawful, shall continue for an uninterrupted period of 72 hours or for more than 72 hours in any given 14-days; and notice of any collective job action must be given in writing 48 hours prior to the commencement of such collective job action,” reads the statute
“Any individual who is a member of the governing body of any trade union representative body of members of the health service which incites or organises any collective job action contrary to subsection (2)(b) or (c) shall be guilty of any an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding level 4 or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or both such fine and imprisonment.
It also says, “A member of the Health Service is under obligation, whilst employed by the Commission shall provide all necessary skills, expertise, care and service expected of him or her as a member of the profession to which he or she belongs; and “during any collective job action, to provide the skill, expertise, care and service to patients in a medical emergency or needing critical care.”
A commission (Health Service Commission) appointed by the President will now run the health service in the country.
The Commission, supervised by the health minister, “shall be responsible for fixing health workers’ salaries, allowances and other benefits of members of health service, as the commission must act with approval of the President given on recommendation of the Finance Minister after consultation with the Health Minister,” read part of the Act.