Striking Zimbabwean doctors stay away from work despite court order

Striking junior doctors in Zimbabwe on Monday continued to defy a court order declaring their three-week industrial action illegal.

One source at the country’s biggest referral center, Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals, told Xinhua that the situation remained dire as the doctors refused to report for work.

Labor Court judge Betty Chidziva ruled in favour of the Health Services Board (HSB) which had sought to have the strike declared illegal and said that doctors offer essential service, which bars them from engaging in collective job action.

The HSB on Sunday warned the doctors that they would face disciplinary action for failing to take heed of the court order upon the expiry of the deadline of 9 a.m. Sunday given to them to return to work.

doctors have however accused the HSB of acting in bad faith for taking the issue to the Labor Court in the middle of negotiations after the cabinet last week assigned Vice President Constantino Chiwenga to oversee the process.

The doctors went on strike on December 1, citing challenges such as unsatisfactory working conditions, low salaries and lack of basic medicines and equipment.

Zimbabwean publication The Herald on Monday reported that HSB vice chairperson Auxilia Chideme-Munodawafa had said all the striking health workers had chosen to ignore the court order, causing the HSB to institute disciplinary action against them.

“Most or all of the health workers who had withdrawn their labor have not reported for work in the timeframe stipulated in the disposal order made by the Labor Court,” she is quoted as saying.

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

The Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA) responded by accusing the HSB of acting in bad faith after they were given an impression by the Ministry of Health and Child Care that negotiations were being finalized.

The association said it had hoped that, following a cabinet decision on Wednesday that Chiwenga would now provide oversight on the negotiations, the strike action should have ended by Sunday.

The “HSB has negated and reversed all the progress thus made to terminate the industrial action,” read a ZHDA statement.

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

“To this effect, we are suspending all negotiations with HSB and Ministry of Health until such a time that an honest, comprehensive and satisfactory offer has been proffered through the Bipartite Negotiation Panel (BNP).”

The association said it blamed the HSB for failing to manage the industrial action that entered its 24th day Monday.

After a nationwide consultation with its members, the association said doctors agreed not to return to work until their grievances were resolved.

“It is indeed shocking that in this day and age, HSB expects doctors to report for duty without a salary and further wishes to conduct disciplinary proceedings on all members who had engaged on the industrial action,” said the ZHDA.

The doctors said even if they were to return to work, they doubted that they could discharge their duty to patients optimally in a poor working environment and without their salaries which have since been withheld because they are not at work.

They also accused some HSB officials of politicizing the industrial action to gain favors with those in authority instead of resolving their grievances.