STRIKING health personnel defied the Labour Court order of showing up at work this morning resulting in the Health Service Board threatening punitive measures as empowered by the court.
By Kudakwashe Pembere
Addressing journalists on Sunday, HSB Vice President Professor Auxilia Chideme-Mungofa could not reveal the type of action to be taken. It emerged that about 553 doctors went on industrial action since December 1.
“Government is accordingly proceeding to institute disciplinary action against all health workers who participated in the unlawful collective job action,” she said.
Justices Gladys Mhuri and Betty Chidziva issued a writ to the doctors to report for work within 12 hours of issuance at their given address. The court also found that doctors failed to argue that working conditions threatened their health and safety.
“Most or all of the health workers who had withdrawn their labour have not reported to work in the timeframe stipulated in the Disposal Order made by the Labour Court,” Prof Mungofa added.
The Labour Court declared the collective job action unlawful on grounds that the doctors failed to formally notify HSB.
“Government notes and accepts that workers are entitled to bring up conditions of work matters with their employer but expects that this is done within the existing legal framework.
“The current withdrawal of labour was one outside any existing legal framework and did not allow for the provisions therein to be exhausted before withdrawal of labour,” the HSB vice president said.
Doctors Defy Court Order
Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association Secretary General (ZHDA) Dr Anele Bhebhe confirmed that none of the striking doctors showed up for work within the time stipulated by the writ.
“Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA) is deeply concerned about the late turn of events where after being given an impression by the Ministry of Health that negotiations were now reaching finalization, the Health Service Board (HSB) then decided to drag the association into the Labor Court. We had hoped that, following the public announcement to the effect that the Hon. Vice President General (Rtd) Dr CGDN Chiwenga was to provide oversight in the negotiations, the industrial action could have ended by this day.
“HSB has negated and reversed all the progress thus made to terminate the industrial action. Zimbabweans for the first time in many years are being deprived their right to access basic quality healthcare services in the festive season. Entirely, we blame the HSB for failing to manage the industrial action that has marked day 23 today. After a nationwide consultation with our members, doctors have agreed NOT to return to work under hazardous and psychologically stressful working conditions until their grievances are satisfactorily addressed,” he said.
He added that the doctors are not scared by the disciplinary action to be meted on them.
“It is indeed shocking that in this day and age, HSB expects doctors to report for duty without a salary and further wishes to conduct disciplinary proceedings on all members who embarked on the industrial action. What is even difficult to comprehend is that the negotiation platform has been abandoned and the board is spending more time in the court than addressing the grievances raised by doctors. Even if doctors were to return to work, we doubt a lot that they are going to discharge their services to patients optimally in a poor working environment and worse still, deprived of their salaries. As if that is not enough, despite that HSB has failed dismally to pay doctors their salaries, the same board expects doctors to cover the legal expenses. We fear that there is a hidden agenda that some officials at HSB are now politicizing this industrial action to gain favors from those in higher offices instead of resolving the grievances,”Dr Bhebhe said.
Dr Bhebhe added that in future they will not entertain HSB nor the Ministry of Health and Childcare for negotiations. “To the best of our knowledge, a communication was made to the Hon. Vice President General (Rtd) Dr CGDN Chiwenga regarding the grievances raised by doctors and hence we are still waiting in anticipation for the response before any further deliberations are conducted. To this effect, we are suspending all negotiations with HSB and Ministry of Health until such a time that an honest, comprehensive and satisfactory offer has been proffered through the Bipartite Negotiation Panel (BNP). We also take the opportunity to wish all our membership, stakeholders and the public at large a merry Christmas and a prosperous new year. Members enjoy the comfort of your homes,” said he said.
There is a de-javu with assumptions of these doctors getting fired given the appointment of Vice President Constantine Chiwenga to be part of the negotiations. This follows the dismissal of about 16 000 nurses that went on collective job action in April this year.