GOVERNMENT yesterday dispatched riot police with dogs at Harare’s Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals in a futile attempt to stop nurses from protesting against low salaries and poor working conditions.
In other parts of the country, nurses stayed away from work as they downed tools to compel government to pay them in United States dollars as the country’s currency continues to be rendered worthless by runaway inflation.
The protest forced the Health Service Board (HSB) to call for an emergency bipartite salary negotiating meeting with the Health Apex Council.
The meeting, however, yielded nothing after the negotiators failed to come up with an agreement to address the nurses’ concerns.
HSB executive director Angelbert Mbengwa said he was in a meeting when contacted for comment.
Health ministry spokesperson Donald Mujiri referred questions to the HSB.
In a statement, the Health Apex Council said: “The meeting took off at around 1pm. Out of all our grievances, the employer did not provide any solutions save for his usual response that they are seized with the matter and numerous promises said to be on the pipeline. For the finer details, our representatives in various centres will give a full update tomorrow (today) at our usual meeting places. Meetings will start at 0800hrs. Tomorrow, let us come in our numbers, in our uniforms carrying placards as we continue to demand living wages and safe working places.”
Zimbabwe Nurses Association president Enock Dongo said there was nothing “tangible” that came out of the meeting.
“We met the HSB today (yesterday) for the first time after 14 months,” Dongo said.
“No salary offer was tabled. The employer wanted to get an understanding of our concerns, which we tabled. But without any step taken by the employer to address our concerns, the struggle will continue. We will not resume duty until the issues we raised have been raised.”
Some nurses who gathered at Parirenyatwa yesterday held placards and chanted slogans in protest over poor working conditions.
They denounced the HSB for turning deaf ears to their plea for improved working conditions.
Earlier on in the morning, government had ordered medical superintendents to report health workers who failed to report for duty.
When NewsDay visited some major hospitals in the capital yesterday, patients were queuing at out-patient departments, waiting for nurses to attend to them.
Addressing the protesting nurses at Parirenyatawa Group of Hospitals, Health Apex Council leader Tapiwanashe Kusotera said the disgruntlement by health workers in the country had escalated.
Kusotera said the protests had now attracted very senior members who previously did not take part in job action.
“Fear not and be courageous and do not be afraid. Strengthen your brothers — those who are not sure of what is happening. I do not take if tor granted that you’re here. We are going to do everything we can to defend your interests and those of the patients. We want hospitals to work. We want drugs to be available. Do not be in a hurry to go home. Tomorrow morning, we meet here and I ask you to bring a friend.
“We all know who is not here. I have spoken to junior doctors and they have received the signal-they will be here tomorrow, I know we are all afraid of the human resources department but we see them here. We received a call from the OPC (Office of the President and Cabinet). They are talking about this and let’s intensity the efforts. If we stop now, we are going to be burnt for no reason,” Kusotera said.
Meanwhile, at some schools across the country, teachers failed to report for work, while at other schools they engaged in sit-in protests.
In Bulawayo, most schools were, however, operating normally.
The Federation of Zimbabwe Educators Union told NewsDay that 50% of teachers had taken heed of the call to engage in strike action for one week, beginning yesterday.
Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe president Takavafira Zhou said divisions rocking teachers’ unions had resulted in them failing to achieve a full-blown strike.
“There are mixed reactions in schools,” Zhou said.
“Some teachers reported for duty, while others failed. What is worrisome is that there is a section of teachers who are selling out the struggle, working as firefighters for government. Those will pretend everything is normal and report for duty. The solution is to restore the pre-October 2018 salaries of US dollars. Even if the salaries are increased by a million percent, as long as it is in local currency, it will not work.”
Zimbabwe National Teachers Union chief executive Manuel Nyawo said: “We have noted with concern that the idea of using percentages in arriving at new levels of remuneration is misfiring by government as it can no longer work in today’s hyperinflationary environment. If salaries are increased by 100%, it would appear that salaries have been increased by a huge margin yet 100% of nothing is nothing. The figures being arrived at by a 100% increment on salaries remain a big mockery to workers.”
Primary and Secondary Education ministry spokesperson Taungana Ndoro said: “Our statistics are still looking good,” Ndoro said. “Let’s see tomorrow (today).”
The meeting held between government and the Zimbabwe Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions ended in a deadlock last week after the workers rejected a 100% pay rise.
Public Service minister Paul Mavima, however, said teachers were not on strike.
“There is nothing like that. Teachers are not on strike,” Mavima said curtly. Newsday