NURSES have threatened to down tools after an emergency meeting with government on Tuesday over their welfare and working conditions ended in a deadlock, putting the fight against the deadly COVID-19 virus in peril.
Health Services Apex Council team leader Enock Dongo, who is also the Zimbabwe Nurses Association (Zina) president, said the nurses were mulling industrial action after government failed to come up with a reasonable offer at Tuesday’s meeting.
The meeting, which Health and Child Care secretary Agnes Mahomva attended, took place at the behest of the nurses.
Dongo revealed that the indaba ended in a deadlock after it emerged that Vice-President Kembo Mohadi, who heads the Cabinet taskforce on COVID-19, had directed that nurses be docked of flexible working hours and report for duty full-time.
Dongo said although a final position on the strike is yet to be taken, the nurses have been left with no choice, but to down tools if their concerns are not addressed.
“The nurses are now saying let us withdraw labour and collapse the health system altogether rather than go to work on empty stomachs and bear the risk of contracting the COVID-19, more so, because of lack of personal protective equipment,” Dongo said.
“Can you imagine a situation where all nurses contract the COVID-19 and put on 21 days isolation? What will be the situation like at our hospitals?
“Other civil servants are at home, but we are being forced to be at the frontline without solving our grievances. It is very unfair labour practice.”
Last year, Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga fired hundreds of nurses after they had engaged in a strike over paltry salaries.
However, Dongo said the nurses are now prepared to go on the same path.
“The nurses are saying there is a risk of being fired for going on strike, but it is better to save their lives as well,” Dongo said.
“So the nurses are saying let us all go on strike and even if they fire us all, we will return later after issues have been solved because government will need us. We did not reach an agreement at the meeting and there was a deadlock.
“Firstly, what we were saying is that nurses need to work on flexible hours of two days a week instead of five to reduce their exposure to COVID-19 cases.
“Secondly, we were saying their salaries or remuneration is too inadequate to take them to work on all days after meeting living expenses since prices of basic goods and everything have gone up steeply and it has been rendered useless.”
“Before the COVID-19, we had declared incapacitation. It is shocking that they now want us to work all days when the situation is now even worse in terms of prices of basic commodities in shops and other costs if other basic needs.
“Our previous demands made in 2019 have not been met and nothing has changed, yet they want us to return to normal working days. That is big challenge and unrealistic.”
He said nurses were still earning measly salaries of $3 000 per month and will get a further $1 500 (US$25) as risk allowance, but Dongo said it was insignificant.
“A nurse earns about $3 000 and that money is now useless,” he said.
The nurses said they wanted United States dollars denominated salaries indexed at the interbank market rate while negotiations continue on demands of at least US$1 000 salaries.
Meanwhile, 16 811 healthcare workers will be receiving 20kg of roller meal each monthly after the Grain Millers of Zimbabwe (GMAZ) and Zina signed a memorandum of understanding last weekend.
GMAZ chairperson Tafadzwa Musarara and Dongo confirmed the development.
Musarara said GMAZ would supervise the deliveries by millers to designated public hospitals on the scheduled dates.