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Zimbabwe Doctors Insist on Pay Increase to Return to Work - 2003-11-10


The strike by junior and mid-level Zimbabwean doctors continues, despite a court ruling ordering them back to work. The Labor Court ordered the doctors to go back to work no later than last Thursday. But the doctors insist they can only comply with the order after they get a written promise that their salaries will be increased.

They are asking for a pay raise of as much as 8,000 percent to compensate for high inflation and the low value of the Zimbabwe currency.

Although the court also ordered the government to have an agreement on the doctor's salary grievances by November 28, the doctors say the court order is ambiguous.

"There are lots of things which are not clear as to when are those salaries to be implemented, it is not clear in the judgment, because we can simply say we have agreed on a salary on the 28th of November, but it is going to be implemented on the first of January," said Dr. Phibion Manyanga, a spokesman for the doctors. "The November salary has to be different from the October one."

A meeting on Friday with a government negotiating team made no headway, and rather than wait for a solution, Dr. Manyanga says some of the striking doctors have decided to resign.

The failure to reach an agreement also led doctors who were still providing emergency services to join the strike.

"Only foreign doctors and army doctors are remaining but that is by far inadequate to meet the country's needs," he said.

While some of the doctors are quitting to go into private practice, for many resignation is the first step toward leaving the country.

According to Dr. Manyanga, 90 percent of the 800 Zimbabwean doctors employed by the government have been on strike since October 23, after several attempts to get their salaries increased failed.

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

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