Zimbabwe proposes designating health services as essential amid doctors' strike

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe’s cabinet is proposing designating health services as “essential” to be provided at all times to try to limit strikes by medical personnel as a work stoppage by public sector doctors over pay entered a second day on Wednesday.

Slideshow ( 2 images )

Zimbabwe is mired in its worst economic crisis in a decade, with triple-digit inflation, rolling power cuts and shortages of U.S. dollars, basic goods, medicines and fuel - stirring memories of the hyperinflation that forced it to ditch its currency in 2009.

Public sector doctors went on strike on Tuesday for the second time in less than a year to demand a further salary increase from President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government.

Junior doctors held a 40-day strike from Dec. 1, crippling public hospitals. It ended without a deal being reached and with doctors threatening further stoppages.

In a statement seen by Reuters on Wednesday, the cabinet has discussed amendments to the health services bill, which include designating “health service as an essential service and emergency critical care as essential services that should be provided for at all times”.

The amendments would also indicate that “a collective job action should be for a well-defined reasonable time, and not for an indefinite period”.

The head of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA), Peter Magombeyi, said doctors were entitled to full labour rights, like any worker in Zimbabwe.

“They have a right for collective bargaining and to demand better conditions of services. Our health minister’s poor attempts to interfere with these rights should be condemned in strong terms,” Magombeyi told Reuters.

Mnangagwa’s government has proposed pay rises for doctors and other public sector workers in an attempt to avert the strikes. The latest pay increase offers would see the lowest paid worker earning 1,023 Zimbabwe dollars (£2) a month.

The doctors accepted a 60% pay increase but said it was not sufficient to avert the strike action. The doctors are looking for another 401% pay hike that they want indexed to the U.S. dollar.

Police have banned a series of protests called by the opposition in major cities and have used tear gas and water cannon to disperse demonstrators.

Reporting by Alfonce Mbizwo; Writing by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo; Editing by Alison Williams