Zimbabwe govt fires striking doctors

Doctors sing and hold placards during a march through central Harare demanding the return of their union leader who was abducted on Saturday night (REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko)

HARARE – The embattled Zimbabwe government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa has fired 77  striking doctors after finding them guilty of absenteeism.

The Health Services Board said the doctors have since been discharged from public service following disciplinary hearings which the doctors absconded from.

In a statement this afternoon, HSB chairman Dr Paulinus Sikosana said the doctors were being charged in terms of section 4 of the Labour (National Employment Code of Conduct), Regulations, Statutory Instrument 15 of 2006 (the Code).

“77 of the 80 doctors were found guilty of absenting themselves from duty without leave or reasonable cause for days ranging from five or more and discharged from the health service,” said Dr Sikosana.

He said HSB is continuing with hearings and are expected to be concluded by November 15 2019.

Last week, all 81 doctors summoned to disciplinary hearings by the Health Services Board (HSB) on Friday stayed away, delivering a major snub to the government which is hoping to use the threat of job terminations to break a strike that has been ongoing since September 3.

Determined doctors have stuck together and rejected a 60 percent pay increment while holding out for salaries adjusted to match the movements in the interbank foreign exchange market.

The HSB, riding on a Labour Court ruling which said the strike by doctors was unlawful, says it will continue with the hearings in the doctors’ absence, and will individually communicate the verdicts to the individual doctors.

“They (doctors) didn’t turn up for the hearings. We are following the right procedure which provides for going ahead with disciplinary hearings whether the doctor is present or not,” HSB chairman Paulinus Sikosana said.

Dr Mthabisi Bhebhe of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA), representing over 1,600 junior doctors, said the government should stop with the threats and negotiate a decent living wage for doctors who want their current salaries multiplied by at least 15.6, the current exchange rate for one United States dollar to the local currency.

“Our principals have no respect for medical doctors in Zimbabwe because their doctors are in China and Singapore,” Dr Bhebhe said on Saturday. “Yesterday, they summarily dismissed 81 doctors for demanding a living wage.”

His claim that the 81 doctors who did not attend the hearings had been sacked could not be independently verified. State media reports suggested that doctors who had no prior disciplinary records would be given cautions while those who already had first warnings would be fired.

The hearings continued this week.

The government faces a threat of more strikes by its workers on Wednesday after the Apex Council, representing over 230,000 public sector workers, gave notice of a massive protest on Wednesday, November 6.

The workers, who include teachers, want their salaries indexed to the United States dollar at the same levels as at February 2019 when their salaries were last paid in the greenback.

The broke government which has allowed fuel and electricity prices to shoot up by more than 500 percent after ending dollarization and making the Zimbabwe dollar the sole legal tender, says it will go bust if it makes the pay adjustments as demanded by its workers.