GOVERNMENT has tasked Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga with resolving the ongoing impasse between the State and the striking junior doctors at public hospitals amid reports senior medical practitioners have joined the industrial action, running into its third week now.
In a briefing to journalists following Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa said Health minister Obadiah Moyo will now be reporting directly to Chiwenga on progress being made during negotiations with the striking doctors.
“Following presentations by the Minister of Health and Child Care of an update on the junior doctors’ strike, Cabinet, while noting the ongoing efforts to resolve the matter, agreed that henceforth the engagement process will be under the guidance of Vice-President Chiwenga,” Mutsvangwa said.
Asked if Chiwenga’s presence in the negotiations was not meant to intimidate the junior doctors, given his public spat with nurses earlier this year, Mutsvangwa said the Vice-President was there to facilitate and ensure a speedy resolution of the crisis.
“The Vice-President is not going to directly negotiate with the junior doctors. The Minister of Health will continue with the discussions, but will give regular updates to the Vice-President,” Mutsvangwa said.
In April this year, Chiwenga, in his capacity as head of the social services cluster, summarily fired some 16 000 striking nurses after they rejected a plea from government to return to their posts while negotiations for a salary adjustment continued.
This came after management at most major hospitals also joined the nurses’ industrial action. Chiwenga, at the time, said the drastic measure was taken after nurses continued with their strike even as Treasury had disbursed $17 114 446 to cover the outstanding salary arrears for nurses.
“Accordingly, government has decided, in the interest of patients and of saving lives, to discharge all the striking nurses with immediate effect. Further, the government has now instructed the Health Services Board to speedily engage, as appropriate, all unemployed, but trained nurses in the country. It has also authorised the board to recall retired nursing staff into the service,” Chiwenga said then.
Chiwenga argued, the strike had turned political at the time and government went on to officially fire some 6 000 nurses. However, government made an about turn a week later, withdrawing the dismissal letters and also employing more who had been languishing without jobs.
Then Health minister David Parirenyatwa claimed the nurses had capitulated and reapplied for their jobs, but labour leaders said none of those who had been “dismissed” had lost any of their benefits.