Nurses, Health Workers on Strike in Zimbabwe with Economy in Free Fall

There is growing uncertainty in Zimbabwe’s health system following a nationwide strike initiated by nurses and other health workers in the Country.


Lack of incentive, poor working conditions, and low renumeration have plagued the sector over the years, in an economy that continues to tank, marked by soaring inflation over 780%.


President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration has been battling to contain a restive workforce of civil servants who have barely been managing to survive on salaries less than USD50 a month. 


On Wednesday June 17, health workers could be seen picketing at their respective hospitals demanding salary increases. The industrial action was sparked by what some health workers termed “…a ridiculous reduction of salaries at a moment when everyone expected an increase”.


The strike which started in one of the country's major referral hospitals, Parirenyatwa has spilled over to other areas countrywide raising fears that Covid-19 patients who are recovering in hospitals would be compromised and may lead to fatalities.


The President of the Zimbabwe Nurses Association (ZINA), Enock Dong told Timescape Magazine that "The spontaneous demonstration by health workers is due to the reduction of their salaries. Payday was on Monday and many were shocked to see their salaries reduced."


He said nurses and other health workers had been getting back pay since February following some negotiations with the employer but were shocked to receive halved salaries prompting them to down their tools after failing to engage the ministry.


"To us, it does not make sense because everyone was expecting an increase because we had written to the employer to say the salaries we got were not enough, and now they have the guts to remove half of nothing. A lot has happened, prices have gone up, so we were expecting an increase not reduction,” Mr. Enock fumed.


The health sector in Zimbabwe has suffered numerous strike actions with the longest being the one by doctors who hung up their stethoscopes in September 2019. For over four months, hospitals operated in emergency mode as the doctors dug in demanding decent wages.


In reaction to the industrial action, the government in a statement has said it will pay a 50 percent increment and USD$75 flat rate for all civil servants.


“The Ministry of Finance is committed to the workers’ cause. Government reiterates its commitment to payment of a living wage to its employees whilst ensuring the sustainability of the budget,” the statement reads.


This commitment from the ministry of finance has, however, been scoffed at by the workers who called it a pittance.


Observers have described the downing of tools by nurses and other health workers, referred to as essential workers because of the global coronavirus Pandemic, in the country as a suicidal for the country. 


The economy of Zimbabwe has been struggling with crippling sanctions from some Western countries, among them the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the United States of America and their allies. Disputes between Zimbabwe and these countries erupted after late President Robert Mugabe initiated a repossession of large expanses of fertile land by Zimbabweans, previously owned and run mainly by White farmers who stayed back in the country at the end of Britian's colonial rule.