Zimbabweans woke up to an unprecedented Christmas Day after government suspended 550 striking doctors, while those who remained at work withdrew their services.
The bulk of those suspended are junior doctors, who make up the majority of doctors in the country – understood to be less than a thousand in total. According to a statement by the country’s Health Services Board (HSB), the doctors have effectively been blocked from going to hospitals or to perform any work-related duties for the next two weeks.
The suspension was aided by a high court ruling which on Saturday declared the strike illegal.
“The findings of the court, in terms of Section 107 of the Labour Act, are as follows: Having listened to both parties’ submissions, the court found that the collective job action embarked on by the respondents (Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association) and its members on December 1 2018 is unlawful,” the ruling read.
After two weeks government will decide whether to keep the doctors or not. However, the few remaining doctors on call have also gone on strike in solidarity with those suspended by government.
“Following the suspension of some of our colleagues, we as Masvingo (province) Government Medical Officers hereby notify our employer, HSB, ministry of health and child care, we are withdrawing our services with immediate effect,” said the doctors in a statement.
The action by Masvingo-based doctors was followed by doctors in other provinces who sent the same notification.
A Harare-based doctor who spoke on condition of anonymity said the situation was bad for the country.
“Think about the seriously ill; there’s no medication and no doctor to attend [to them]. It’s only the nurses, and they will soon down tools with the rest of the civil service. Government should simply address our grievances as its workers. Doctors and nurses are classified as critical skills people in some countries and getting jobs out there is not that hard, and if government clearly doesn’t care, we will leave,” he said.
Only expatriate doctors from countries such as Cuba are at work.
Last week the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) met President Emmerson Mnangagwa, demanding a 600% salary hike or to be paid in US dollars. If government failed to meet this demand, they promised to go on strike in the first week of January.
A failing economy has robbed ordinary Zimbabweans of a merry Christmas. Tradition in most households is pomp and fanfare, however, it won’t be the case this year. The local soft drink manufacturer Delta Beverages – which bottles Coca Cola, Fanta and Sprite – shut down its factories because of foreign currency shortages.
“The shortage of forex is well articulated, and is beyond the control of the company. In short we are unfortunately heading for a dry festive period. We can only apologise to our valued customers and consumers,” the company’s corporate affairs executive Patricia Murambinda said.
Instead of making their way to Christmas carol functions, fireworks displays and lights, many will spend their time in fuel queues.
“There’s not even a bonus to talk about. We were paid 100% of strictly the basic pay. All those years under Robert Mugabe it was a 100% of everything including allowances,” said teacher Bongani Moyo.
By his own admission, Mnangagwa said it would be a gloomy Christmas for many.
“I am aware that many will have a difficult Christmas. I encourage all of us to be patient, resilient and to work harder in collective unity, as we create a better, democratic and prosperous Zimbabwe for all,” he said in a statement.