In response to charges levelled against 13 nurses who are accused of contravening lockdown regulations, introduced as a way to address COVID-19, by protesting to demand better wages and working conditions, Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Southern Africa, said:
“The charges levelled against these nurses, to enforce COVID-19 lockdown regulations, are clearly aimed at preventing them from organizing and speaking out against low wages and terrible working conditions.
“Zimbabwean authorities are arbitrarily using lockdown regulations to silence medical professionals and activists. The nurses were simply expressing their frustrations with their employer over the failure to address low salaries and longstanding poor working conditions. This, like other labour disputes currently unfolding in Zimbabwe, is a result of the neglect of health care services and the failure by the government to provide adequate remuneration.
“Zimbabwean authorities must stop intimidating, harassing and suppressing dissent and instead start listening to the genuine concerns of healthcare workers. This is essential to effectively contain the spread of the virus.”
The Zimbabwe Republic police arrested 13 nurses on Monday 6 July at Sally Mugabe Hospital, on allegations that they had contravened section 8(3)(a) of the Public Health (COVID 19 Prevention, Containment & Treatment Regulations).
The nurses were planning to have a feedback meeting on their current labour dispute with their employer over low salaries and poor working conditions. Two of them paid admission of guilt fines whilst 11 were were released on $15 USD bail after they appeared at Mbare Magistrate Court on 7 July and they have been ordered to report to their local police stations once a week. If they are convicted, they face a maximum of one year imprisonment or a fine.
The right to just and favourable conditions of work is enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which Zimbabwe is a party. It includes the right to fair wages, equal pay for work of equal value, safe and healthy working conditions, reasonable limitations on working hours, protections for workers during and after pregnancy, and equality of treatment in employment.