HARARE - There is no holiday cheer for striking doctors in Zimbabwe this Christmas. The country's health minister announced on Christmas eve that none of the strikers will receive their December salaries. Doctors say the strong-arming will not make them call off their almost month-long strike.
Zimbabwe’s Health Minister Obediah Moyo announced the government was suspending all striking doctors and that they would not be paid.
The doctors have been on strike since December 1, demanding that the government better equip the hospitals and pay them in U.S. dollars.
The doctors say Zimbabwe's hospitals lack modern technology, medicines, and protective clothing. They say that being paid in the devaluing local currency, called “bond notes,” means a struggle to survive.
But Moyo was firm in rejecting the doctors’ demands.
“Government does not pay salary in foreign currency. It is common cause that we do not print U.S. dollars or any other foreign currency notes," he said. "[On] payment of December salaries; the government maintains the policy of no work, no pay and those doctors and other health workers who did not participate in the unlawful collective job action have already received their December salaries.”
Moyo said the strike by the doctors was causing “unnecessary deaths and pain of patients.” He did not elaborate with any statistics to back up his claim. But the shortage of state doctors and health care workers has been noticeable in hospitals since the strike began.
Mthabisi Bhebhe is secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors’ Association. He said the government’s suspension of the doctors and refusing to pay salaries was not productive.
“The honorable minister does not fully address grievances raised by doctors. He had already suspended about 553 doctors nationwide and how do you expect the health system of this nation to continue in such a scenario? The industrial action is still ongoing,” he said.
Union leaders say the government’s rejection of their demands has resulted in low morale among health workers.
Zimbabwe’s health sector has deteriorated in recent years amid poor funding and a struggling economy.
It largely depends on the assistance of international organizations such as USAID and the European Union.
The striking doctors say they are seeking a court order to declare the government’s failure to pay them illegal.