HARARE – Junior doctors called an end to their strike after 40 days on Thursday, bringing relief to patients and easing pressure on the embattled government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
The doctors, who stopped reporting for work on December 1, have been demanding to be paid in United States dollars while protesting a lack of basic medicines and protective clothing.
The government rejected their push to be paid in United States dollars, while offering to review their conditions of service with no clear timelines.
Senior specialist doctors had joined the industrial action saying they were unable to cope and offering solidarity with the junior doctors.
Hospitals were forced to discharge patients and close their outpatients departments, forcing patients into expensive private clinics and hospitals.
In a statement, the doctors said they had “begrudgingly” returned to work, admitting they had not secured all their targets with the strike action. The doctors would not rule out truancy induced by the twin problems of fuel shortages and devalued salaries.
“Our members have begrudgingly resumed work with effect from today as dialogue continues,” the doctors said.
“Sadly, with no salary review and frozen December salaries in this rough and ravaging economic environment, it remains a dilemma how our members will report to work daily.”
The doctors reaffirmed a commitment to a “healthy and prosperous Zimbabwe”, but said they would do so “through advocating for an efficient and effective health delivery system and improvement in conditions of service for doctors.”
“The ministry has committed in writing that it will consistently improve supply of medicines, medical and surgical sundries in public health facilities. It was further agreed that there is going to be unfreezing of critical posts for doctors. We hope these promises will be fulfilled with urgency as it has been the culture of the Health Services Board to go back on agreements before,” they said.
The doctors secured a commitment from the government to make fuel available at their hospitals; advance them loans to acquire vehicles on a duty-free basis; increase the availability of medicines; review their working hours; pay more for overtime as well as review their salaries by April.
The doctors also secured an undertaking that the government would not sack any of their members for taking part in the industrial action.
“It should not take 40 days with doctors on strike for the Ministry of Health and Child Care to act and restore normal health delivery in government health institutions,” the doctors went on.
“Therefore, there is need for consistent and continuous engagement between doctors and the ministry to avoid unnecessary interruption of service delivery.”
The government is facing discontent from the entire civil service. Also on Thursday, it offered to raise civil servants’ pay by 10 percent, which was immediately rejected by the Apex Council, the public sector workers’ representative body which has given notice of a nationwide shutdown by government workers within 14 days.
The dramatic loss of value by the bond note and RTGS balances used to pay the civil servants, timed with a sharp spike in prices of basic commodities and services, is the cause of the latest unrest.
The government, which had not budgeted for salary increases, does not appear to have solutions to the crisis. President Emmerson Mnangagwa leaves on a five-country tour to Eastern Europe next week hoping for an unlikely bailout.