By Brenna Matendere
HEALTH workers have given the government a written notice to engage in a strike starting today, a development that could plunge the nation into a health disaster due to the ongoing COVID-19 scourge.
In a letter to the Health secretary Agnes Mahomva dated May 11, the Health Apex Council team leader Enock Dongo, who is also the Zimbabwe Nurses Association president, informed government of the health workers’ intention to down tools starting today.
The demands of the health workers include reinstatement of flexible working hours and provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) to use in COVID-19 hospitals.
“In pursuance of paragraph 4 above, this communication serves as notice that should you not revoke your directive by 3pm on May 12, 2020, all health workers are proceeding to withdraw their labour and engage in a collective job action in protest against this directive with effect from May 13, 2020,” part of Dongo’s notice read.
“This notice is in terms of section 104(4)(a) of the Labour Act (Chapter 28:01), which allows those in the essential services to resort to collective job action to avoid any occupational hazard, which poses an immediate threat to the health or safety of employees.”
Nurses have been threatening to strike demanding that government should provide them with protective clothing during the COVID-19 pandemic. They are also demanding that government should not remove the flexi-hour system.
“Despite numerous attempts in the past week to try and find a reasonable conclusion to the attempted removal of the flexi-hours system, we find that your position has remained the same throughout,” Dongo wrote.
“For the avoidance of doubt, we brought an alternative solution which we are of the opinion that it preserves the health of workers and at the same time accommodates other issues we raised.”
Added Dongo: “Worryingly, decisions are being made unilaterally and the bipartite negotiating forum has been totally ignored. Regrettably, through such action, it seems your office may be out of touch with the reality on the ground which same reality we have tried to bring to your attention with no success.”
The health workers complained that their working conditions were deplorable and put them at risk of contracting the COVID-19.
“We reiterate that health workers are not prepared to risk their health by being required to attend work in large numbers and under normal conditions,” Dongo said.
Douglas Chikobvu, the Zimbabwe Professional Nurses Union secretary-general, confirmed they had given notice to strike and reiterated that government erred by docking flexi hours.
“Government’s termination of flexi working hours is a breach of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) signed between health workers and government,” he said.
“It is a total declaration of war with nurses who are grappling with mere basic good to fend for themselves in a hyperinflationary environment. The CBA was arrived at after government failed to align salaries to the interbank rate leading to the birth of the agreement.
“Nurses are raring to confront the employer and government over broken promises and agreement.
This confrontation will be seen through collective job action of five days per week.”
Itai Rusike, director of the Community Working Group on Health, demanded a transparent account of how donations for PPEs for frontline health workers in the country had been distributed.
“Why are the PPEs not reaching the intended beneficiaries — the frontline health workers? Are there leakages along the distribution channels? Are there fat-cats lining their pockets at the expense of the health workers? Why is the government taking long to investigate and plug the leakages?” he asked.