HARARE – Zimbabwean health workers are now barred from going on strikes lasting more than three days, according to a new law just signed by President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
The government says the Health Services Amendment Act will protect the public and preserve life, but unions accuse the government of depriving nurses and doctors of their right to collective bargaining.
The law imposes a minimum service requirement for striking health workers who are “under obligation… during any collective job action, to provide the skill, expertise, care and service to patients in a medical emergency or needing critical or intensive care.”
The law adds: “The Health Service shall be deemed as an essential service… 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-day period.”
The law also requires nurses and doctors to give a written notification to the Health Service Commission 48 hours before going on industrial action.
Union representatives who “incite or organise any collective job action contrary to the law” will be jailed for up to six months.
The government passed the law after a wave of pay strikes by health workers over the last three years brought fresh woe to the country’s failing health service. The new law could accelerate the flight of health workers to foreign countries, mainly the United Kingdom which has taken over 3,000 Zimbabwean nurses and doctors over the last year.
Itai Rusike, the executive director of the Community Working Group on Health said: “The Health Services Amendment Act is neither democratic nor consultative. Public sector health workers are now disadvantaged in several ways as they no longer have the right to strike, and they cannot engage in collective bargaining.
“This unpopular law will exacerbate the exodus of health workers from the country thereby putting pressure on those who will remain on their jobs.”
The new law also changes the employer for the health workers from the Health Services Board to the Health Services Commission.
The commission will function under the supervision of the minister of health with powers to fix salaries, allowances, and other benefits for members of the health service.