The development comes as a huge blow to President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration which is already under pressure from teachers and the entirety of civil servants who want their salaries reviewed upwards in line with the rising cost of living.
According to the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ), a family of five now requires ZW$120 000 a month to meet living conditions, yet the government workers are paid an average of ZW$30 000 monthly.
Led by Robert Chiduku, the Zimbabwe Professional Nurses’ Union (ZPNU) is headquartered in Gweru and has membership of about 6 000 health workers.
A letter dated 23 May by the union addressed to the Health ministry’s permanent secretary Jasper Chimedza and Health Services Board executive director Paulinus Sikhosana gleaned by The NewsHawks, outlined the anger of the nurses over their working conditions.
At top of their demands is payment of salaries in United States dollars.
The ZPNU also want the government to release diploma certificates for nurses who have completed specified periods of time working in Zimbabwe on a bonding scheme so that they look for employment elsewhere in the world.
The government has a scheme in which it trains nurses while paying their tuition fees on condition that they work in the country for about two years.
The measure was put in place to avert brain drain as nurses who complete their courses race to go and work abroad, notably in the United Kingdom where salaries are way better.
“We are informed by our members that those who have already completed bonding are being denied access to their diplomas. We kindly request that your highest office facilitates a smooth flow to the issuance diplomas to those who have completed bonding,” reads part of the ZPNU letter to Chimedza.
The letter was counter-signed by ZPNU secretary-general Douglas Chikobvu and president Chiduku.
The letter further reads: “We kindly advise the ministry of Health to liberalise post basic training and ensure that nurses progress to degrees instead of diplomas. Offering of post basic qualifications will ensure universal access to all nurses who want to upgrade themselves.”
The letter was sent to the Health ministry in Harare from Gweru using an overnight local courier company, EMS Zimbabwe.
In an interview with The NewsHawks, Chiduku said the demands of nurses are justified.
“In short we are demanding full US dollar salaries because the economy has dollarised. We want release of diplomas for those who completed their bonding. We also want upgrading and regarding of primary care nurses as well as streamlining of post-basic diplomas to degree programme and allow universities to offer nursing programmes.”
“When we make these demands we are not begging. These are things that we are entitled to. We are not working to get slave wages. We need US dollar salaries without going back. We have given the government and our employer the Health Services Board two weeks to resolve these grievances or we down tools,” he said.
In the past, industrial action by nurses has resulted in dire consequences such as loss of life in public hospitals.
Many citizens rely on the public hospitals for medical care as they cannot afford charges levied by private health institutions.
While salaries and working conditions for nurses are deplorable, consumables and equipment such as cancer machines are in short supply in Zimbabwe’s public hospitals, posing grave risks to citizens who cannot afford the services of private health centres.