DOCTORS and nurses working in Zimbabwe’s public health institutions will no longer be allowed to go on strike for an uninterrupted period spanning more than three days under changes to the Health Services Act.
Any worker representative who incites or organises an illegal job action could face up to three years in jail.
Chief director of the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Dr Maxwell Hove, said once passed, the law will allow health care workers to strike for only three days per fortnight.
‘Healthcare workers will not be able to go on strike for more than three days and will stay at work for a minimum of two weeks before the law allows them go on another three-day strike,’ said Hove.
The new law will now designate health care workers as ‘essential service providers’ as defined under the Labour Act.
The Labour Act designates any service whose interruption endangers the life, personal safety or health of the whole or any part of the public as an essential service.
The Health Service Amendment Bill reads in part:
‘The Health Service shall be deemed as an essential service referred to in section 65 (3) of the Constitution; and no collective job action whether lawful or unlawful shall continue for an uninterrupted period of 72 hours or for more than 72 hours in any given 14-day period; and notice of any collective job action must be given in writing 48 hours prior to the commencement of such collective job action.
‘Any individual who is a member of the governing body of any trade union or representative body of members of the Health Service which incites or organises any job collective action contrary to subsection 2(b) or (c) shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding level 10 or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding three years or to both such fine and such imprisonment.’
The Health Service Commission will be given powers to discipline any medical worker found to be in contravention of the new provisions.
The Commission can also report the offending member to their relevant professional council in terms of the Health Professions Act.
Zimbabwe Nurses Association (Zina) president Enock Dongo said the government should consult health care professionals first before banning them from striking.
‘It is never the intention of health workers to withdraw their labour, in fact it is the last option,’ he said.
‘So, it is important for government to consult health personnel when crafting such laws.’
Senior Hospital Doctors Association (SHDA) president Dr Shingai Nyaguse has yet to issue a statement.
- Groups representing foreign drivers, such as the Zimbabwe Truckers Association and the SADC (Southern African Development Community) Truck Drivers Association, report that several of their members were attacked last week under the cover of the general looting that took place in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.
‘There is a danger that this situation spirals out of control, and South African drivers operating in neighbouring countries get targeted for tit-for-tat violence,’ said Simba Chitando, who is representing several foreign truck drivers associations.
A complaint has been lodged with the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague in the Netherlands, which says it is monitoring the situation of foreign drivers in SA, though so far has declined to open an investigation.
That was before the events of last week when violent protests and looting broke out in South Africa.
The government is aware of the situation with foreign drivers, but has sought to delay finding any resolution.
The consequences of that prevarication were in full display last week, says Chitando.
‘The government cannot say that it was not warned what would happen. We have provided ample evidence of facts on the ground, and who is behind the attacks.
‘It (government) chose not to act when it had the chance. The situation is fast spiralling out of control and has the danger to impact not just foreign drivers, but SA’s relations with Zimbabwe, arguably its closest ally in the region,’ he adds.
Director of the Zimbabwe Truckers Association, Wellington Manyonda, said in an affidavit before the Gauteng High Court that there appears to be little understanding in the presidency of the urgency of the situation.
‘South Africa is currently facing rampant acts of xenophobic violence targeting Zimbabwean truck drivers on all the major roads in the country.
‘The crisis has resulted in physical and mental trauma to our members, as well as the loss of life, often in the most heinous and gruesome acts of violence normally associated with acts of war.’
‘There has been a breakdown in law and order on the roads, and the police are unable to bring it under control,’ he argued.
Part of the blame lies with senior politicians who appear to incite attacks against foreigners.
The case was opposed by the state on technical grounds, and the acting director-general in the presidency argued that the matter was not urgent and that more time was needed to assess the situation.
Chitando says the folly of that delay is now evident for everyone to see.
‘Foreign truck drivers are facing extreme danger each day they do their jobs, and the SA Constitution is supposed to provide them protection.
‘It is well known who are the individuals behind groups (agitating for violence against foreign truckers), and if not, that is a huge failing of South African Intelligence. These people need to be arrested without delay.’
The National Bargaining Council for the Road Freight and Logistics Industry says about 85% of the more than 51,000 truck drivers in SA are local citizens.
About 15% are foreign. This contradicts claims by the ATDF (All Truck Drivers Foundation) that about 80% of truck drivers in SA are foreign.
The events of last week may have been a tipping point for many foreign truck owners and drivers.
Zimbabwe is bracing itself for shortages as a result of supply disruptions after travel on the N3 highway came to a standstill for several days, and several warehouses and supply warehouses were looted and burned to the ground.
South African Petroleum Refineries (Sapref) declared force majeure last week as a result of the looting and shut down its refinery, which accounts for 35% of SA’s fuel refining capacity.
The Botswana Ministry of Mineral Resources says it has enough fuel to meet expected demand, but local oil companies are sourcing supplies outside SA to ‘minimise any possibility of a fuel shortage’.
Former opposition parliamentarian in Zimbabwe and economist Eddie Cross said that he expects the events of last week to have a temporary impact on Zimbabwe. ‘It will affect supplies to domestic markets but no long-term damage,’ he claimed