HARARE (Reuters) – Striking Zimbabwean doctors defied a government ultimatum to return to work on Monday, after rejecting a 60% pay rise offer they say is not enough to keep up with soaring prices of basic goods.
The southern African nation’s economy is grappling with its worst crisis in a decade, with triple-digit inflation, rolling power cuts and shortages of U.S. dollars, medicines and fuel that have revived memories of the 2008 hyperinflation under late President Robert Mugabe.
The Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA), the union for junior and middle-level doctors in the public sector, on Monday pulled out of the Health Apex Council that represents public health workers in negotiations with the government, saying it no longer served their interests.
The association said the government offer was “ridiculous” as it would take their monthly salaries to around 1,700 Zimbabwe dollars ($111), well below their demand of a 400% salary hike.
More than 100 of its members marched at the main Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare on Monday demanding higher pay and vowing not to return to work.
The doctors have been on strike for more than a month, which has seen some patients being turned away from public hospitals already struggling with shortages of medicines.
ZHDA said in a statement that the government was not willing to address their concerns but had instead responded with “intimidation and threats of disciplinary action or dismissals.”
“The will and desire is there but the means to execute their (the doctors’) duties does not exist,” it said.
Health Minister Obadiah Moyo, who on Saturday issued the ultimatum for doctors to return to work on Monday or face disciplinary action, said he could not immediately comment.
Tapiwa Mungofa, the ZHDA treasurer, later told reporters that the World Health Organisation and other United Nations agencies should help raise funding for Zimbabwe’s health sector and broker a solution to end the strike.
The doctors want their salaries indexed to the U.S. dollar because the Zimbabwe dollar is losing value against the greenback while earnings are being eroded by inflation, which the International Monetary Fund said stood at nearly 300% in August.
The government lifted the price of diesel and petrol by up to 27% on Saturday, which was followed by increases in the prices of goods like sugar, cooking oil and milk and transport.
Last week, President Emmerson Mnangagwa pleaded for time and patience to revive the economy.
Hopes that it would quickly rebound under Mnangagwa, who took over after Mugabe was deposed in a coup in November 2017, have faded fast, as Zimbabweans grapple with inflation that has eroded earnings and savings.