Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

Harare — Nurses in Zimbabwe have scored a major victory with the government hiring a number of unemployed nurses and reversing dismissal letters of almost 6‚000 other nurses, who were fired after downing tools.

Two weeks ago, 16‚000 nurses in government institutions went on a strike that effectively crippled the health sector‚ resulting in vice-president Constantino Chiwenga adopting a hardline stance and deciding to dismiss them.

However‚ members of the Zimbabwe Nurses Association (Zina) in smaller towns broke ranks with their Harare counterparts and began reporting back for duty by the end of last week.

On Monday, the government accepted all the nurses back and it was business as usual again‚ despite a pending urgent court application by nurses challenging their dismissal.

“We are happy that nurses have been taken back unconditionally because their grievances are valid‚” Zina’s secretary-general Enock Dongo said.

One nurse said that she had signed a dismissal letter last week‚ but when she returned to work on Monday, she had signed a new contract and was now confused about what would happen to her pension.

“What I don’t know is that my benefits of 10 years’ service have been eroded or not‚” she said.

Dongo added that hiring new nurses meant that there was an increase in the staff complement at the country’s public health institutions, but that did not alter the fact that nurses needed to get what was due to them.

“It’s hopeless when it’s a demotivated lot with poor working conditions‚” he said.

In 2017, health minister Dr David Parirenyatwa said the nurse staffing complement at the time (16‚000) was equal to levels in 1980 at independence, when the country’s population was estimated to be a little more than 7-million.

A 2012 census put the country’s population at 13-million at a time when the government had frozen the hiring of nurses because it was faced with myriad economic problems that led to a brain drain and hospitals’ failure to provide basic healthcare.

Figures from the Health Services Board (HSB) indicate that to operate at a basic level‚ the government should hire 8‚000 nurses.

To address the shortage in 2017‚ government hospitals resorted to offering their nurses locum jobs‚ paying by the hour whenever they were off duty.

Sources said that on average‚ a thousand nurses graduated annually‚ and that using them to replace experienced ones was impossible. There were also fewer than 3‚000 jobless nurses.

“You can’t take away years of experience and replace it with people who last worked as students. Even so‚ the country reduced nurses’ training drastically in 2011‚ such that those without jobs won’t even make up half of those that would have been fired‚” said the source.

The government is expected to disburse $17m dollars in outstanding allowances to nurses.

“We expect them to give us the money because it’s money owed to us. We worked for it. It’s not like we are saying they should pay for what we are yet to work for‚” Dongo said.

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