By Farayi Machamire
Vice President Constantino Chiwenga may have violated the law which he is supposed to be upholding by rushing to fire nurses in government hospitals for taking part in an industrial action without following due process, the Daily News can report.
The former commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces issued a statement on Tuesday announcing the dismissal of all the nurses who persisted with the job action in spite of the financial rewards pledged by government.
He said in the interest of patients and of saving lives, government has decided to discharge all striking nurses with immediate effect.
Further, it has instructed the Health Services Board to speedily engage all unemployed but trained nurses in the country and to recall retired nursing staff into the service.
Chiwenga claimed the striking nurses had been given $17 million through the Health and Child Care ministry, but still did not call off the strike, adding the issue was political.
Accordingly, government will now use the funds to support the fresh recruitment drive, which is now in full swing.
Legal experts warned yesterday that Chiwenga may have plunged government into a legal minefield by getting rid of the nurses without following due process.
This comes as the nurses, through the Zimbabwe Nurses Association (Zina), have said if the decision is not reversed they will soon be approaching the courts for them to determine if what the government did was procedural.
Writing on her Twitter account, Harare lawyer and politician Fadzayi Mahere, said government cannot simply fire nurses without following the law.
This, according to Mahere, includes “notifying them of the alleged offence, giving them an opportunity to present their case, giving them the option of legal representation and then adjudicating the issue fairly”.
Also writing on his Twitter account, constitutional law expert Alex Magaisa raised the red flag, saying the vice president jumped the gun.
He said: “You’re (Patrick) Chinamasa or (Sibusiso) SB Moyo trying to paint a rosy picture in Europe and America and boom! The headline is Zimbabwe VP fires all nurses! No due process. Rule of law bla bla…Pakaipa ”.
The nurses’ strike comes after doctors in public hospitals have just ended a month-long job action after government conceded to their demands.
The doctors were pressing for improved allowances and better working conditions, among other things.
Teachers have also threatened to go on strike when the schools open next month if their demands for a salary increase are not addressed.
Yesterday, labour unions and politicians condemned government, saying the dismissal of nurses will have serious legal implications.
Spokesperson of the People’s Democratic Party Jacob Mafume said claims that the strike was political were not enough justification to fire every striking nurse, adding that the management cluster which Chiwenga is heading was not a constitutional body but an arbitrary one.
“There is no reference to the head of government in his statement. He (Chiwenga) refers to himself as a head of some cluster. He even has authority to decide how the money will be used without reference to anyone. Every Zimbabwean has a right to be political. What crime is that, that could lead to someone being fired? He is paranoid out of control drunk with power,” Mafume said.
The spokesperson of the Welshman Ncube-led MDC Kurauone Chihwayi said the decision was made without the poor people in mind.
“This is a hastily made decision by a cruel regime that is sure of its exit. The poor people are dying and the rude Zanu PF vice president does not care about them. The people of Zimbabwe should dump criminals like those who dismiss nurses and enjoy seeing mortuaries loaded with lifeless bodies of poor people,” said Chihwayi.
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) said by dismissing striking nurses who were raising legitimate concerns, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has clearly shown that it is anti-workers, adding that trying to force disgruntled and underpaid nurses to care for citizens in ill-equipped hospitals endangers people’s lives.
“Their kids learn outside the country — being taught by motivated teachers. So this is not an attack to the nurses or teachers but the citizens who will ultimately pay the price. It is @DrDParirenyatwa that must pave the way for new set of hands to move our health services forward,” ZCTU wrote on Twitter.
Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe secretary-general, Raymond Majongwe also wrote on Twitter that government needed to be reminded that workers have constitutional rights that cannot be militarised.
“We are in a democracy. Our Constitution allows (us) to withdraw our labour. Please nurses and teachers are not soldiers. These are our rights. Please,” Majongwe said.
National Patriotic Front spokesperson Jealousy Mawarire said government’s action was untenable and illegal.
“It’s quite obvious, like in the case of the youth officers, that the government will lose the labour case should the purportedly expelled nurses take their case to court. There is certainly some other motivation, which is linked to the need to reward soldiers who embarked on the coup last year using the money initially given to nurses, which motivated the summary dismissal of the striking health professionals, especially after $17 million was availed to them, which figure translated to a $13 salary increment, on average, for every nurse.
“It is quite ridiculous to expect the nurses to have accepted that and even weirder for the vice president to summarily dismiss the nurses, who, by the way, had very compelling arguments about the need to improve their conditions of service and strike after giving notice and within the confines of the law,” Mawarire said.
He said, what is most cynical about the dismissal is that it was done on the eve of Independence Day.
“…blatantly showing all and sundry that there is no freedom and independence to talk about. The industrial action by the nurses is legal and guaranteed by Section 68 of the Constitution but Chiwenga, like what he did with the coup on November 15, 2017, continues to violate the Constitution and fundamental rights of citizens and professionals provided for in the Constitution. We are yet to get the full story but there is something very sinister about the dismissals and the new plot to use the $17 million initially granted to the nurses to reward soldiers who helped with the coup. Chiwenga and his government might deny this but it is written all over that ridiculous, callous and inhuman decision to summarily dismiss the nurses,” he said.
According to Obert Gutu, the spokesperson of the Thokozani Khupe MDC camp, the decision to fire all striking nurses was unwise, ill-advised and cruel.
He said government should soberly look into the striking nurses’ grievances and try to seek a lasting and holistic solution to the crisis in the health delivery system in Zimbabwe.
“The decision to fire the striking nurses is just emotive and insensitive. It is a public secret that nurses in Zimbabwe are severely overworked and extremely underpaid. Surely, government should pay all civil servants, including nurses, a living wage,” said Gutu.
“Cabinet ministers and other top government bureaucrats are paid top dollar, including hefty perks, but the majority of civil servants are being paid a virtual slave wage. This is so wrong,” Gutu said.
Meanwhile, Zina secretary-general, Enoch Dongo, said they had not been given $17 million as alleged by government.
“Nobody received the money and we only heard about it on news. The $17 million was for pay arrears, dating back to 2010. Nurses are not striking for arrears but for new demands. They are now paying the arrears relating to the rectified grading system and are now using it as if nurses turned down a $17 million offer. They promised verbally and there was nothing in written form. They have to give us that money.
“There is nothing political as far as the issue is concerned. I was never approached by any political party. They should address the issues being raised by the nurses,” Dongo said. DailyNews