Striking doctors at public hospitals are likely to face a contempt of court charge for defying a Labour Court order issued last Friday compelling them to report for duty within 48 hours of the ruling which declared their collective job action as illegal.
BY BLESSED MHLANGA/ ELINERA MANYONGA/VANESSA GONYE
But, the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors’ Association (ZHDA) leadership met its members at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals yesterday where they vowed to stay at home until government ensured that they earn meaningful salaries.
Addressing members, ZHDA secretary-general, Tawanda Zvakada said the order of the Labour Court did not change anything because they remain incapacitated.
“It is not like we are feigning incapacitation; the incapacitation is real, so unless the court provides the means for us to report for work, feed ourselves and our children, which we can’t do at the moment, then it does not change anything. It is important to note that a court order must be enforceable in this case in as much as we want to comply we are incapable,” Zvakada said.
Doctors are demanding that government pays them the equivalent of their United States dollar salaries in local currency pegged at the interbank rate, which is currently the 1:15 rate to the US dollar.
Doctors on average earn $2 000 which is almost equivalent to US$120 per month which they say cannot meet their day-to-day cost of living needs.
ZHDA treasurer-general Tapiwa Mungofa said: “If only we could get a court order to buy groceries from shops, to pay rent or to buy fuel, then we won’t hesitate to accept a court order. Until then, we are incapacitated to report for duty. We could appeal against the Labour Court ruling to the Supreme Court, but we do not even have money to pay lawyers because our struggle is real,” Mungofa said.
Facing the risk of being fired or sanctioned, the doctors said going back to work on the paltry salaries would be as good as being fired while on the job, because government was paying them an equivalent of 10 chickens a month.
“Doctors, let us bring sanity to our profession. We cannot even buy 10 birds of chicken with our salaries, so we will not report for duty until our employer offers a tangible solution,” said Rumbidzai Jhamba, a member of ZHDA, during a solidarity meeting.
The doctors, who are preparing to receive their leader, acting president Peter Magombeyi – who has been receiving treatment in South Africa after he was allegedly abducted and tortured last month, said they will not relent.
“Our (ZHDA) president Peter Magombeyi is set to return home any time this week. He is recovering well and still receiving outpatient treatment and counselling in South Africa. We are in constant communication with him and we are re-engaging him in our struggle and he is still in solidarity with us,” Zvakada said.
Health ministry spokesperson Donald Mujiri said he was locked up in a meeting to deal with the issue of doctors’ strike and could not immediately state government’s position regarding the job action.
“I am currently in a meeting to deal with that matter, so I cannot give you further information,” he said.
However, doctors at Chitungwiza Central Hospital seemed to sing a different tune as they reported for duty in their numbers, except a few.
Chitungwiza Central Hospital chief executive Enock Mayida confirmed that since the strike commenced over 40 days ago, doctors at the institution had not entirely downed tools.
“Generally, the doctors were reporting for duty since the strike began, consultants were available doing their work. The majority of those who had not been coming to work reported for duty today (yesterday). They responded to the 48-hour ultimatum although we were not entirely affected from the onset,” he said.
The doctors have remained defiant, in a strike which is the sixth since the President Emmerson Mnangagwa-led government came into power with perennial demands dating back from the later former President Robert Mugabe era.