Friday, November 29, 2019

Fired Zimbabwe Doctors Were Offside, Says Health Services Board
29 NOV, 2019 - 00:11
Herald Reporter

Doctors being dismissed from public health service violated multiple labour provisions, leaving the Government with no option but to institute disciplinary action, the Health Services Board (HSB) has said. The Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors’ Association (ZHDA) withdrew their labour starting on September 3, 2019 citing incapacitation.

Chronicling events that led to the current disciplinary action, board chairman Dr Paulinus Sikosana said on August 27, 2019, the Government through the Bipartite Negotiating Panel offered to review all health workers’ basic salaries by 50 to 76 percent on a sliding scale, effective August 1, 2019.

All health workers, junior doctors included, agreed to this by signing the collective bargaining agreement on the understanding that negotiations centred on reviewing allowances, those that were health specific, plus those for transport and housing, would continue.

Government also committed to look into the provision of buses for health workers and further review the cost of living adjustment in the fourth quarter of the year.

However, the ZHDA later backtracked and disowned the agreement. The doctors then pulled out of the Health Apex Council, which represented not only them, but the rest of health workers in the Health Service Bipartite Negotiating Panel.

The panel’s establishment and composition is clearly spelt out in Statutory Instrument 111 of 2006 and is a replica of the Public Service Tripartite Negotiating Forum. It only recognises talks with workers through the Health Apex Council.

Dr Sikosana said on September 2, 2019, they met with the ZHDA in an effort to dissuade them from withdrawing their labour as well as advising them that since they had not registered any dissent to the collective barganining agreement, they were automatically bound by its provisions.

“The board reminded the ZHDA that failure to report for duty without official leave or authorisation gives the employer no choice but to invoke the provisions of the Labour Act,” said Dr Sikosana.

However, he said the doctors stuck to their position of incapacitation and refused to report for work.

According to the board, by September 20, 2019, 62 percent of all junior doctors had withdrawn their labour, forcing the board to stop paying their salaries, a standard procedure laid down in the Labour Act.

He said through the Health Service Bipartite Negotiating Panel, Government made another offer of a 30 percent increase on all health sector specific allowances, which the workers rejected, before offering on 4 October to double the allowances.

“Unfortunately, ZHDA did not attend the meeting, having stated that they had lost faith in the Apex Council, demanding that Government must create a separate negotiating platform for doctors only,” said Dr Sikosana.

On October 18, 2019, a meeting with just the junior doctors was held again where Government repeated its offer to double all health sector allowances.

“ZHDA attended the meeting but walked out before it ended. The other health workers signed a collective bargaining agreement, having reluctantly accepted the offer, on condition that the reviewed allowances would be paid in October 2019,” said Dr Sikosana.

The HSB then approached the Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare seeking a show cause order against the doctors, which was granted on October 2, 2019.

He said in terms of Section 107 of the Labour Act, the board proceeded to apply for disposal of the order against the doctors at the Labour Court.

“The disposal order hearing was heard before the Labour Court on October 9, 2019 and the Labour Court subsequently issued the disposal order on October 11, 2019, which declared the collective job action unlawful and gave the ZHDA members a 48-hour ultimatum to report for duty and that the dispute be referred for arbitration in terms of Arbitration Act,” said Dr Sikosana.

He said, most of the doctors however defied the 48-hour ultimatum, nullifying the provision for arbitration and thereby forcing the employer to institute disciplinary action for absence from work for 5 or more days after the expiry of the ultimatum.

“Disciplinary proceedings started on October 21, 2019, which led to the dismissal of those found guilty and were still absent from duty by the date of the hearing.

“Those found guilty but had returned to work by the date of the hearing were given written warnings,” said Dr Sikosana.

Most of the doctors also boycotted the disciplinary hearings resulting in dismissals in absentia.

In total, 516 of the 1 601 doctors who work in the public health sector are expected to appear before the   hearings.

Although Government has called on all those wishing to continue serving in the public health sector to reapply, the doctors said they will not do so arguing that they were never on strike but “simply incapacitated”.

Some members of the Zimbabwe Senior Doctors’ Association (ZSDA) have since withdrawn their services demanding reinstatement of the fired defiant junior doctors.

In a statement released yesterday, the ZSDA maintained that they were forced to act as the situation in hospitals had deteriorated to the point where there were no bandages, gloves and syringes. It said the action of its members was meant to highlight the dire situation publicly.

“The Ministry of Health and Child Care assured us that the situation was due to shortcomings at hospital management level. The matter also caught the attention of His Excellency, who generously availed hard-earned taxpayers’ money to buy drugs and equipment,” the association said.

The association argued that the intervention was, however, not enough and since then the situation had not changed.

“We are not greedy mercenaries. We deserve proper tools of the trade, a living wage and a safe working environment. The citizens of Zimbabwe deserve a health system they can trust,” read the statement.

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