THE Zimbabwe Nurses Association (ZINA), has shot down government’s decision to scrap the flexible working hours arrangement during the COVID-19 induced lockdown period citing worsened incapacitation amongst a host of other woes.
By Michael Gwarisa
The flexi-hours system was implemented early this year to cushion nurses who had gone on a strike owing to poor wages and high costs of living. In a recent letter addressed some public health institutions, all members of staff were immediately required to return to work and resume normal duties.
According to government, the flexi hours were removed so as to ensure that there is continuity in service provision and adequate coverage hence the interim arrangement of flexible hours for all staff categories at all institution has been cancelled indefinitely.
However, in a letter addressed to the Health Services Board (HSB) Executive Director, Ms Ruth Kaseke, ZINA Secretary General (SG), Mr Enock Dongo said it was impossible for nurses to resume normal duties outside the flexi-hours arrangement as nurses were still experiencing economic hardships and the current COVID-19 crisis has worsened their plight.
In our respective opinion, the decision cannot be effected for the following reasons:- firstly, you will note that that the reason that motivated the flexi-hours system has not been addressed but, as a matter of fact, employees are now more incapacitated as a result of wanton and unrestrained price increases during this lockdown period.
“For background information, the collective bargaining agreement stated that the principle of flexible working hours would be in place until there was an adequate review of remuneration. At date of writing this communique, there has not been adequate review of the remuneration. Therefore, in our opinion, it is prejudicial to the employee for the employer to revoke an instrument which is meant to cushion them from economic difficulty in circumstances where it is acknowledged that the situation has deteriorated further,” said Mr Dongo.
He added that the employees remain incapacitated and cannot abandon the flexi-hours system. He also indicated that while the decision to remove the flexi-hours system was premised on the fact that employees have been exempted from tax payment for the next six months, there was no indication on how the tax waiver would benefit the ordinary employee.
“Our current estimate is that the waived tax is quite negligible when compared to the soaring prices of basic goods to the extent that for some employees, the tax amount would not be enough to cover the cost of buying a bottle of cooking oil and a pack of mealie-meal.
“Thirdly, and most importantly, the decision does not provide the necessary protection needed by the employees against the COVID-19 pandemic but in actual fact, there is a threat of collapsing the Health Service Delivery system.”
He also said there are no protective measures that have been put in place to limit contact between ordinary people and health workers, a situation which exposes health workers and the public to COVID-19.
“We have a situation whereby these workers use public transport to work, coming into contact with all manner of people and this alone exposes them to COVID-19 contacts. Therefore, not only are the workers in danger but they are also a danger to other patients and the public. In our view, separate transportation must be provided for them when travelling to work to reduce exposure.
“Currently, using the flexi-hours system, the government has not been able to provide adequate numbers of Protective Personnel Equipment (PPE) to health workers who are at the forefront of this fight against COVID-19. This situation in our respectful opinion is quite untenable,” said Mr Dongo.
He also called on government to increase and improve the quality of PPEs being offered to health as it is an essential part of the COVID-19 management system. Meanwhile, Mr Dongo added that the move by government to scrap the flexi-hours arrangement would collapse the health system of the country.
“As regards to the potential collapse of the health system, it is in our view that to have many employees congregating at hospitals is not an ideal situation but instead, the government must be trying to decongest them to make social distancing an achievable reality. Currently, we have an approximate number of 40 nurses who had to undergo quarantine after it was deemed they had been in contact with a COVID-19 patient at Parirenyatwa.”
He added that should the HSB implement the scrapping of flexi-hours, then they will be left with no option but to down tools so as to save themselves from infection and sliding into worse poverty due to incapacitation.