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Striking Health Workers Defy Zambia Minister’s Order

  • Peter Clottey

Zambia's President Michael Sata speaks to journalists at the 18th African Union summit in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, Jan. 2012 file photo.

Zambia's President Michael Sata speaks to journalists at the 18th African Union summit in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, Jan. 2012 file photo.

Nurses and midwives of Zambia’s University Teaching Hospital say they’re refusing to return to work until the government keeps a promise to improve their living conditions.

The health workers, who began their strike last week, have so far defied health minister Dr. Joseph Kasonde’s demand to go back to work.

“I am not appealing to them, but I am directing and instructing them as their employer to resume work with immediate effect,” said Kasonde.

But, the workers refuse to return to work contending that President Michael Sata’s government has yet to honor a promise to increase their salaries. The group representing the health workers union is part of the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU).

Leonard Hikaumba, president of the ZCTU, has called for dialogue to resolve the impasse.

“There has been an approach of using some sort of intimidation and using threats for nurses and midwives to go back to work,” said Hikaumba. “But our belief is that, if they went back to work as a result of such an approach, [it] would not work according to expectations. What we want is the settlement of this problem amicably, so that even as they go back to work they would be satisfied their issues are being given due attention.”

Zambians have expressed concern that patients will suffer over the stalemate between the government and the striking workers.

Some administration officials blame the striking workers for not using the right channels to resolve their grievances, and accuse them of holding the administration to ransom.

Hikaumba insisted the administration should keep its promise.

“There was an indication from some top government officials that workers had been given 200 percent salary increase. So, when they received their new salaries and conditions of service, they discovered that was not the case, and that is what sparked off the protest,” said Hikaumba.

He said the workers want the government to detail how it will address their concerns.

“They want to hear from government what progress has been made in regards to the grievances that they had,” said Hikaumba. “In our meeting we had with them today, there is an indication that they would be willing to go back to work, as long as the government comes out clearly on the position [of] what they had promised.”

Hikaumba said the striking health workers are unlikely to succumb to threats and intimidation.

He however expressed hope that the stalemate could soon be resolved.

“It is our expectation that very soon we should be able to convince the striking workers to get back to work, and ensure that the bargaining process, which has just started, be carried out in a transparent manner , and that something should be considered for the health workers arising from the grievances that they’ve put across,” said Hikaumba.
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