Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Zimbabwe Dismisses 16,000 Nurses Over Strikes
Retired Commander of Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) General Constatino Chiwenga reacts after taking an oath of office as Vice President during the swearing in ceremony at State House in Harare, Zimbabwe, December 28,2017.

Published 18 April 2018

Zimbabwe said it had sacked 16,000 nurses taking part in strikes demanding the payment of their allowances and restructuring the grading salaries system, as the new government sought to keep a lid on labor unrest in the build-up to the first elections since the fall of Robert Mugabe.

Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, the retired army general who led a de facto military coup against Mugabe in November, accused the Zimbabwe Nurses Association (ZNA) of staging a “politically motivated” walkout, ignoring the government's “good faith” evidenced by the transfer of over US$17 to the health ministry, and said they would be replaced by retired and unemployed staff.

“Government now regards this lack of remorse as politically motivated, and thus going beyond concerns of conditions of services and worker welfare,” said Chiwenga late Tuesday and added “accordingly, government has decided, in the interest of patients and saving lives, to discharge all the striking nurses with immediate effect.”

He did not eleborate which political group he thought was behind the strike. Mugabe regularly accused opposition groups of trying to undermine his government by encouraging public sector strikes that marked his time in office.

The nurses went on strike Monday over unpaid allowances and other issues, leaving hospitals understaffed. The Zimbabwe Nurses Association ZNA, which has more than 16,000 members, said government negotiators had tried Sunday to avert the strike by promising to pay arrears but nurses decided nevertheless to go on strike.

“They have been making promises for a long time and the nurses resolved to only go back to work when their money is in their accounts,” Enoch Dongo, the ZNA secretary general said.

The nurses want to be paid other allowances they say were promised by the government in 2010 but never delivered. A majority of nurses were placed in lower grades making it harder for them to receive higher pay, Dongo said.

The action came days after junior doctors wrapped up a month-long walkout over pay and working conditions, which ended on April 2. The nurses’ union told its members to stay calm as it considered its response to the government's decision.

At Harare Hospital, the second biggest in the country, there were few nurses on duty and non-critical patients were turned away, a Reuters witness said. Mpilo Hospital in Bulawayo closed its outpatient department and only tended to emergency cases, according to an official memo to staff. Its maternity wards were the most affected, a doctor at the hospital said.

The lowest paid nurse in Zimbabwe earns a gross monthly salary of US$284 before allowances, according to Dongo.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who replaced Mugabe in November, has promised to revitalize Zimbabwe's economy. Their own dollar was abandoned as official currency on 2009 and demonetized in 2015.

Since then, the country has used a number of foreign currencies for daily transactions, including the U.S. dollar, the South African rand, the euro among other currencies.

Mnangagwa will stand in elections set for July against a revitalized opposition Movement for Democratic Change party led by 40-year-old Nelson Chamisa.

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