HARARE – The country’s medical doctors are threatening to down tools if government does not increase their on-call allowances by 50 percent, among other demands.
In a letter dated January 18, 2018, addressed to the minister of Health and Child Care David Parirenyatwa, the doctors said their demands must be addressed as part of government’s 100-day plan.
The doctors’ list of demands includes a review of the current on-call allowance from $360 to $720 — an increase of 50 percent.
They also want a recruitment freeze effected by government last year to be lifted to mitigate the serious shortage of doctors in Zimbabwe’s public hospitals as well as to be allowed to bring vehicles into the country, duty free.
“We, the patriotic doctors working day and night in Zimbabwe government hospitals, convey the following as our minimum expectations on the new government’s first 100 days in office of President Emmerson Mnangagwa,” reads part of the letter by the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA).
“The vehicle duty assisted framework agreed upon with the Health Services Board in 2017 must be urgently implemented. No doctor should have to resort to public transport when they rush to respond to medical emergencies and on call duty.”
ZHDA said the current “pathetic” on-call allowance must be urgently revised upwards to $720 per month, from $360, as per an undertaking made by government in 2014.
“The blanket freeze for recruitment of doctors and other health workers must be urgently scrapped. Currently we have one doctor per 250 000 people. ZHDA sincerely hopes that the government will deliver on the key demands within the 100 days plan otherwise doctors will resort to industrial action for these issues to be resolved,” ZHDA said.
ZHDA has over 3000 members.
Last month, Mnangagwa’s new administration adopted a 100-day action plan to, among other things, improve the ease of doing business in Zimbabwe and attract investment.
It focuses on those things that make a visible and most immediate impact on the country as a whole.
Last year, government, under former president Robert Mugabe, put a freeze on the recruitment of doctors unless there are promotions, resignations, retirement or deaths.
This is not going down well with the doctors considering the high doctor-to-patient ratio which is not in keeping with international best practices.
In terms of the World Health Organisation standards, the ratio should be one doctor to 600 people.
The doctors are also demanding that a vehicle duty assisted framework agreed upon with government in 2017 should be implemented urgently to enable them to respond to medical emergencies timeously.
In an interview with the Daily News, ZHDA president Edgar Munatsi said they were hopeful the new government will heed their call.
“Last year, when we demanded that the on-call allowances be reviewed we were only given a $72 increase. When we saw that government was not doing anything to change the situation, we just compromised with them and continued with our duties. Now that we have a government, we need some of the promises from 2014 to be fulfilled,” he said.
The doctors have previously embarked on industrial action to press government to improve their conditions of service.
Last year, they spent more than three weeks on strike, demanding that their 2014 salary review demands be addressed.
The turbulent industrial relations have conspired with the harsh economic environment to worsen the state of the country’s healthcare facilities which are in dire need of a revamp.
This is at a time the country’s hospitals and clinics continue to experience serious shortages of drugs, leaving patients to purchase them at private pharmacies at steep prices.
Last year, the country was hit by a pethidine (a post-surgery painkiller) shortage which left most hospitals with no option but to abandon non-emergency surgical operations.
The strike call by the country’s doctors comes as civil servants have also voiced their concern over the rise in the cost of living and how it has eroded their salaries.
Unions, among them the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe To cushion and the Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe are agitating for salary adjustments consistent with the poverty datum line.
“Civil servants are becoming vulnerable. We are now pushing for our salaries to be above the PDL. We are very much disturbed with the existence of a three tier-pricing…,” the Apex Council’s information and publicity secretary, George Mushipe, was quoted saying.
“Previously, we could understand the fiscal challenges faced by government but with the current sharp price increases, we have been left with no option but to demand a salary hike. We are going to engage government because our salaries have been completely eroded,” he added.
Salaries in the civil service were last reviewed about six years ago, when the country emerged from a unity government in which Mugabe shared power with his nemesis, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai – who was then prime minister.
While prices had stabilised during the era of the coalition government from 2009 to 2013, the economy has persistently suffered inflationary shocks since then.
The past year became the tipping point, when prices zoomed beyond the reach of many.
Retailers are using a three-tier pricing system whereby payments effected through plastic cards attract higher prices than those made through the local bond note. The surrogate currency is, however, playing second fiddle to hard currencies, especially the United States dollar – the most sought-after currency.
While the new administration has set up a committee led by retired general Constantino Chiwenga (Vie President) to look into the price escalations, the market continues to behave wildly.
The stimulant stoking the price increases has been cost-push inflationary pressures –arising mainly from the cost of accessing hard currency on the black market to pay for imported goods since Zimbabwe is a net importer.
Most importers are unable to access foreign exchange from formal banking channels where rates are tightly controlled by the monetary authorities because they hardly get any owing to a crippling liquidity crisis.
As a result, they are scurrying for foreign exchange on the black market where they obtain it at a heavy premium which is passed on to the consumer.