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Zimbabwe Labor Court Declares Physicians' Strike Illegal - 2003-11-05

The two-week strike by junior and mid-level doctors in Zimbabwe has been declared illegal by a labor court. The court has ordered the doctors back to work.

Presiding Judge Lilian Hove acknowledged that the doctors have a legitimate grievance over their salaries, which needs urgent resolution. But, she said they ignored established procedures to have their issues solved before resorting to the work stoppage.

She said the doctors had gone on strike in total disregard of their duties to save lives. She ordered the strike terminated immediately and that the doctors report for duty by no later than ten o'clock Thursday morning. Under Zimbabwean law it is illegal for doctors to go on strike because they are considered providers of an essential service.

Judge Hove also ordered a government negotiating council to meet with the doctors by Friday, and said the doctors' salary grievance must be settled by the 28th of this month. The judge said the government council canceled a scheduled meeting with the doctors last Friday for what she called flimsy reasons.

The striking doctors' representatives declined to make a statement on the judge's back-to-work order, saying they needed to consult with their members first. They had earlier said they would not go back to work without a written promise on how their grievances would be addressed.

The doctors went on strike on October 23, after several attempts to get their salaries increased failed. The doctors are asking for a pay increase of up to 8,000 percent to compensate for high inflation and the low value of the Zimbabwe currency. At the unofficial rate, junior doctors now make only about $63 a month, while their mid-level counterparts earn about $80.

Nurses, who earn even less, briefly joined the doctors job action. They went back to work after getting an 800 percent increase, according to the Independent, a Zimbabwean weekly newspaper.

Zimbabwe's health care system, once considered one of the best in sub-Saharan Africa, is collapsing because of severe shortage of money for medical equipment and essential drugs. Many of Zimbabwe's doctors, nurses, and other health-care professionals are leaving Zimbabwe for countries offering better pay.