President Emmerson Mnangagwa is cutting short his holiday and returning to work as his deputy admitted failure in his attempts to end the strike by government-employed junior doctors.
Mnangagwa’s decision to return to work was confirmed by the information ministry on Twitter. Chiwenga, who is acting president, told reporters Tuesday night that government was gravely concerned with the situation in public hospitals as the strike continues.
The former Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) chief was speaking after meetings during the day aimed at resolving the impasse between the doctors and government.
“ … government is disturbed by the fact that in spite of the many concessions it made to the striking doctors, and the broad agreement reached on all but two issues, the striking health personnel continue to withhold their labour and negotiate in bad faith even though they are designated as an essential service under the Labour Act, and even though government has bent over backwards to accommodate them,” he said.
Chiwenga was deployed by Mnangagwa to help end the strike which started on December 1 and has since been joined by radiographers. The vice president, who earlier in 2018 fired striking nurses before the decision was reversed, started by claiming that the junior doctors were yet-to-qualify interns and warned that they could be replaced by other students.
The plan hit a brick wall after trainee doctors at the University of Zimbabwe and the National University of Science and Technology declared support for the striking medical practitioners.
“We are greatly disturbed by the ministry’s efforts to undermine the genuine grievances raised by our fellow doctors and the move to try and recruit us to cover the gap created. We want to categorically state that we are in full support of our senior colleagues and believe in dialogue rather than duress,” they said.
More than 500 of the striking doctors have since been suspended and Chiwenga was adamant Tuesday that they must face disciplinary action after the labour court ruled the job action illegal.
The doctors are demanding that the government addresses the shortage of critical medicines in public hospitals as well as surgical and other equipment. In addition, they want their salaries increased and paid in the more stable US dollars instead of the local Bond Notes and RTGS currencies.
The latter demand has been rejected by the government. “For the avoidance of doubt, government will not remunerate any of its workforce in United States dollars, a position it made very clear to the striking doctors. The government does not print United States dollars,” said Chiwenga.
He added; “International best practices which govern doctors and interns, provide that doctors should not abandon patients and posts; and that, instead they should bring forward their grievances while making sure loss of life or unnecessary pain and suffering is avoided.”
Specialist doctors, meanwhile, gave the government until Monday, December 31 2018 to deal with the impasse or they, too, would to down tools. “As senior doctors, we feel that health service units work as teams,” Zimbabwe Medical Doctors Association secretary-general Sacrifice Chirisa told journalists.
“Therefore, the absence of the juniors and middle-level doctors, and any other members of the team, critically compromises all aspect of health service delivery to patients, their communities and the public at large.”