BY HARRIET CHIKANDIWA
LEGAL think-tank Veritas has attacked the Health Service Amendment Bill saying it seeks to deny health sector workers the right to strike.
The Bill is still being scrutinised by the Parliamentary Legal Committee (PLC) for its constitutionality.
It intends to align the Health Service Act (Chapter 15:16) with the Constitution by classifying health delivery services under a commission, a major shift from the current position where it is under a board.
In its latest Bill Watch publication, Veritas observed that the Bill will alter the name of the Health Service Board and make its membership and functions similar to those of the Public Service Commission.
However, Veritas warned that the Health Services Commission might be less independent than the present board as its members would hold office at the President’s pleasure.
The watchdog said the Bill also sought to suppress health workers from speaking out or protesting against poor wages and working conditions.
“No collective job action whether lawful or unlawful shall continue for an uninterrupted period of 72 hours or for more than 72 hours in any given 14-day period; and notice of any collective job action must be given in writing 48 hours prior to the commencement of such collective job action,” the Bill read in part.
“Furthermore, by illegally declaring the Health Service to be an essential service, the Bill seeks to deprive service members of their right to strike, a right that is guaranteed by section 65 of the Constitution hence the Bill will make the Act less constitutionally compliant than it is at present.
“In regard to discussing the parameters of collective job action, if we assume, this means defining the limits of strike action that may be taken by members of the Health Service Commission, the Bill will actually confuse matters as we have shown, by substituting vague and unconstitutional prohibitions for the clear precepts of the Labour Act.”
Veritas, however, said the Bill was unlikely to cow government health professionals into accepting their unsatisfactory conditions of service and stop them from engaging in job action.
“Instead, it (Bill) may persuade them that government is not prepared to listen to their complaints and intends to resort to coercion. The Bill may, therefore, drive more of them to seek fortunes outside the country. Altogether this is not a satisfactory Bill,” it said.
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