Zimbabwe doctors ignore court ruling to return to work

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Government-employed doctors have ignored a Labour Court ultimatum to return to work, saying they remain incapacitated by poor wages and inadequate health facilities. According to a VOA report, Justices Lawrence Murasi and Rodgers Manyangadze ordered doctors last Friday to report for duty within 48 hours. They declared the strike illegal and referred the dispute between the doctors and the government to arbitration within 14 days.

Junior doctors have not reported for duty since 3 September, saying they no longer can support themselves on salaries of less than $200 a month as Zimbabwe’s economic crisis drags on. Senior doctors joined the strike last Thursday, with both groups also complaining that health facilities lack the equipment and medical supplies needed to treat patients.

Dr Tawanda Zvakad – acting secretary general of Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA), which initiated the strike – is quoted in the report as saying that the group’s lawyers were preparing to challenge the ruling. It could be appealed to Zimbabwe’s Supreme Court.

Masimba Dean Ndoro, the association’s acting vice president, says physicians still lack resources to report for work. “Doctors simply do not have the means to attend to their duties,” Ndoro said.

The report says the strike has crippled the health sector, exacerbating suffering for the sick and injured in the southern African country of 14m people. While private doctors have not joined the strike, their higher fees put them out of reach for most people.

The government’s health minister, Obadiah Moyo, was not available for comment. Dr Paulinus Sikosana, who chairs the Health Services Board, has threatened to withhold pay from striking doctors.

The court ordered doctors to return to work within 48 hours, after a ruling that their boycott was illegal, but has been ignored. Reuters Africa reports that the Labour Court’s judgment late on Friday says that members of the ZHDA, which represents junior and middle level doctors in public hospitals, should cease their strike forthwith.

The Health Service Board, which employs the doctors, had asked the court to force them to get back to work, arguing that they were not allowed to strike because they provided an essential service. The board is entitled to take disciplinary action against doctors who fail to comply with the order, the court said, adding that the two sides should seek arbitration within 14 days.

But, Ndoro said the doctors would not return to work. “Our issue is very clear, doctors are incapacitated. Despite the court order, they cannot go back to work until the issues on the table are addressed,” Ndoro said. The doctors have already said an offer to raise their allowances by 60% 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.

Zimbabwe is grappling with its worst economic crisis in a decade, amid triple-digit inflation, rolling power cuts and shortages of US dollars, medicines and fuel. The doctors’ strike has seen some patients being turned away without treatment.

Fin24 reported earlier that they have rejected a 60% pay rise, saying it is not enough to keep up with soaring prices. But with the economy in free fall, patients needing treatment are also suffering.

The report says the strike is the latest in a string of economic challenges faced by cash-strapped Zimbabwean consumers, who are now paying 26% more for fuel and 300% more for energy. President Emmerson Mnangagwa recently described the economy as “dead”.

VOA report Reuters Africa report Fin24 report

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