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Striking Zambian Health Workers Want President Banda's Intervention

Striking Zambian health workers say they want President Rupiah Banda's personal intervention to give assurance that all of their demands would be met.

Health workers and teachers in some parts of Zambia have been on strike for some time now demanding salary raise and improved working conditions.

But Zambian Information Minister Ronnie Shikapwasha says the government has already offered the workers a 15 percent salary increase.

Ozias Kaundula Banda, president of the Zambia National Union of Health and Allied Workers told VOA the 15 percent salary increase does not come close to meeting the workers' demands.

"One, the negotiations have actually taken too much time; two they are also crying for the housing allowance to be actually something reasonable to be given to them; three the nurses are also crying for their uniform allowance to be increased," he said.

Banda said the health workers are also demanding risk and duty allowances.

He said the health workers do not feel comfortable going on strike because their core duty is to save lives.

"You see the most painful thing is that we take care of lives and when you see people dying in the hospital, you don't feel good. You see the core business is the patient," he said.

Banda said the workers sometimes feel betrayed because on the one hand the government claimed it does not have the money to meet all of the workers' demands. Yet on the other hand he said civil servants in the health ministry are stealing billions of kwacha.

"You know what angers the workers so much is the issue of this money that is being stolen by some people within the ministry. If we demand for this we are not being given because there is no money. And yet billions are being stolen," Banda said.

He said the striking health workers want President Rupiah Banda's personal intervention.

"What we need now, we need the president to give hope to everyone and to re-assure the nation that things are actually being done because when the president says something everybody will get back to work," Banda said.

Banda said the negotiations have stalled to the point that the workers do not seem to have faith in their own negotiators.

Zambian Information Minister Ronnie Shikapwasha said the government has bent over backward in order to meet the workers' demands.

"Negotiations had been going on throughout the week and last week, and today the government finally agreed to offer a 15 percent salary increase across the board, he said.

Shikapwasha said striking teachers were expected to sign the new agreement by Thursday, followed by other union members on Friday.

Thereafter, he said negotiations would resume on the workers' other demand which is housing allowance.