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Striking Zimbabwean Doctors Arrested - 2003-11-14

Zimbabwean authorities have arrested state-employed doctors who went on strike for higher wages.

The arrest of three doctors was made when they turned up for a scheduled meeting with the government negotiating council. Spokesman for the striking doctors, Dr. Phibion Manyanga, who is in hiding, told VOA that the doctors were aware of the police plan to arrest them. The head of the Public Service Commission, Mariyawanda Nzuwa, said the doctors' demands for a salary increase of up to 8,000 percent is ridiculous and unacceptable. Mr. Nzuwa said even President Robert Mugabe does not earn as much as the doctors are demanding.

He also accused the doctors of trying to gain public sympathy by deliberately understating their income. At the unofficial rate, junior doctors now earn about $63 a month, while their mid-level counterparts earn about $80 a month.

Under Zimbabwean law, it is illegal for doctors, who are considered essential workers, to strike.

The doctors went on strike on October 23, after several attempts failed to get their salaries increased. They defied a court order to return to work, saying they first want government assurances their salaries will be increased.

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.