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“Our morale is at its lowest ever”- nurses accuse Govt of neglecting them

Zimbabwean nurses have said that their “morale is at its lowest ever” while accusing the government of neglecting their welfare and crafting laws that suppress their right to look for better jobs in other countries.

The Government of Zimbabwe is amending the law to ban nurses and other health professionals from leaving the country looking for jobs. The argument being given by authorities is that the country is suffering a brain drain.

In a letter to the Health Services Commission, the Zimbabwe Nurses Association (ZINA) said it was concerned by poor wages being given to its members.

ZINA also raised alarm over the government’s decision to amend the law to stop nurses from looking for jobs in other countries.

“Firstly, it is a matter of great regret that precedent is seemingly showing that the plight of nurses is not an issue of concern to the Employer. The Health Service Bipartite Negotiating Panel, which is supposed to be the forum in which issues are discussed, has been deliberately made useless as it has not met in the last two years despite our persistent request for it to sit and discuss.

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“As the option for dialogue was taken away, nurses would usually be forced to unintentionally withdraw their services just so they could be heard,” read the letter.

“However, with shock and dismay, the Health Service Act was amended to also remove this as an option and make it a criminal offence for nurses and other health workers to engage in collective job action despite the report by the parliamentary portfolio of health showing that the amendment was contrary International labour standards and further recommending that ‘given the overwhelming rejection of the bill by the interested and affected stakeholders, the MoHCC should withdraw the Bill and conduct a thorough consultation process…’

“Unfortunately, no such consultations took place and the Act was amended showing that the mentioned stakeholders were not considered important enough for their input and opinions to matter.

“Once it became clear that their cries were falling on deaf ears, many nurses have opted to move to other countries and seek employment there. However, having observed that nurses were leaving in their huge numbers, there has been a deliberate attempt to frustrate their efforts by withholding the necessary clearance letters required for them to move. This therefore meant that nurses were being forced to remain in their country despite the poor working conditions.”

They further stated they tried to engage the government, their employer to map the way forward but it was not forthcoming.

“We have made all effort to meet our Employer and explain the situation but we have been rebuffed at every turn. Left with no choice, we wrote to Parliament early this year requesting for urgent intervention and this culminated in the national hearings and meetings held in the last few weeks. We still await the report.

“As nurses, our morale is at its lowest ever. We question what wrongs we have committed for us to be treated in the way we are currently being treated. Who do we turn to when our Employer is not interested in hearing what we are going through?

“Does our silent distress bring comfort to our Employer?

“At the moment, nurses in Zimbabwe have been turned into near destitutes. We requested for USD salaries long back and these were refused. Now we bear the pain of working in a health sector for remuneration in RTGS that is currently not worth US$100 when converted at the market rate, which is the rate in use. Nurses are literally surviving on an allowance, being the monthly US$200 covid allowance, to meet all obligations such as rentals, school fees, medical costs, groceries etc. Obviously, this is not enough,” the Zimbabwe Nurses Association said in their letter.