Court orders striking doctors to report for work within 48 hours

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 – Striking doctors must return to work within 48 hours, or face a misconduct charge, the Labour Court ruled on Friday.

The court found that the work boycott by junior doctors pressing for better pay, which began on September 3, was unlawful. Judges, however, referred the matter to arbitration.

The over 1,6000 doctors at government hospitals have maintained that they are not on strike but are “incapacitated” – their pay so low they are not able to turn up for work.

Justices Rodgers Manyangadze and Lawrence Murasi ruled that doctors who report for work within 48 hours will not face sanction.

“The dispute between the parties be hereby referenced for arbitration to resolve the matter. The arbitration should be held within 14 days,” read part of the order.

The court on Thursday had reserved the judgement after the ministry of health sought an order to declare the industrial action by doctors to be illegal.

Doug Coltart, a lawyer representing the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors’ Association (ZHDA), said contrary to government’s arguments that the doctors are on strike, the industrial action was a result of “incapacitation.”

“Doctors are saying we are not on strike and we are not unwilling to go to work, but we are unable because we are incapacitated. That evidence was not laid before the court,” Coltart said.

“The government has done little to show cause to adjust to the demands of the doctors. It’s not a strike, the doctors are simply unable to go to work.”

The state on the other hand stated that the doctors were given a pay rise of 60 percent and still refused to go to work.

Doctors want their salaries to be indexed to the United States dollar, starting from June when the country abandoned the multi-currency regime and reintroduced the Zimbabwe dollar whose value has declined dramatically, wiping salaries in the process.

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