Govt defends Health Services Bill That Prevents Healthcare Workers From Striking

GOVERNMENT has defended its Health Services Amendment Bill arguing health workers are not allowed to strike for they are an essential service.

By Kudakwashe Pembere

Health economists and public health experts have described the bill as draconian and counterproductive and it has been blamed for the massive exodus of skilled personal the country is country experiencing.

Speaking before the Parliament on behalf of the Vice President who is also Health and Child Care Minister,  Constantine Chiwenga, Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Honorable Ziyambi Ziyambi said unions hoodwinked health workers into believing they would be guaranteed reasonable salaries. He said it was an impossible task for Government to give in to the demands of salary improvements due to the constrained finances.

Madam Speaker, I will not repeat what is said about each Clause in the explanatory memorandum to the Bill. I will only stress a couple of important points.  Not so long ago, we saw that the public health service was affected by spread strikes, walk outs and refusal of service by public health workers.  There were in many cases misled by union representatives who promised that they could achieve the impossible that is to say to compare the Government to give them conditions that were beyond the capacity of Government’s financial ability to offer,” the VP said.

“We as Government highly value our public health service workers but they are not the only public service workers we have to care for.  They, like other workers in the public sector, are entitled to decent working conditions and Government will never stop hearing their reasonable grievances about their material well being but we must balance the aspiration with the reality that in any state, the delivery of affordable public health service is a basic public health good that cannot be withdrawn from our people because of a labour dispute.”

He said the Bill seeks to improve health workers conditions.

” I am pleased to bring you a Bill that is very important for the better delivery of Public Health Services, it will amend the Health Services Act to bring it into line with the Constitution and improve the conditions of health service workers.  Let me remind you that Section 29(I) of the Constitution says that and I quote “The State must take all practical measures to ensure the provision of basic accessible and adequate health services throughout Zimbabwe”,” said the VP.

With the Bill making the Health workers part of the essential service, the Health Minister
said negotiations and arbitration routes are to be taken to absolve grievances.

“Accordingly, the Bill will declare that health service to be an essential service. This means that the service cannot be withdrawn by ordinary methods of industrial action.  Instead Madam Speaker, negotiations must be undertaken leading to compulsory arbitration if there is a deadlock between the parties.  At most withdrawal services during collective job action cannot exceed 72 hours in any week.

“Clause 5 of the Bill is a very important clause in this connection, it makes it clear that the calling of a health service worker is not simply a job but a vocation to help, heal and save the lives of our people.  What is more noble than that? Sub clause (4) of Clause 4 says that a member of the health service is under an obligation to provide the professional skill expertise, care and service expected of him or her as a member of the profession to which he or she belongs.  It goes on to say that even during any collective job action, a member of the health sector is under an obligation to provide the professional skill, expertise, care and service to patients in a medical emergency or needing critical or intensive care,” he said.

Those in breach will be disciplined.

“Madam Speaker Ma,am, health service workers who breach these fundamental obligations will force professional disciplinary proceedings, just like any other health service worker in the private sector will face the same,” the VP said.  Gazetted last year, the Health Services Amendment Bill has been widely criticised by health workers unions and other Civil society organisations as repressive through denying the right to strike.

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