We would like to begin by expressing our gratitude to everyone here for your continued support and solidarity during this difficult time. We would like to acknowledge the presence of our fellow Zimbabwe Hospitals Doctors’ Association members as well as all government doctors listening in. We appreciate the presence of the press corp and the critical role that you play in ensuring our message is heard and shared to all citizens, within Zimbabwe and abroad.
Ladies and Gentlemen, comrades and friends, we have called this press conference precisely to update the nation on the developments that have occurred to date, since doctors nationwide declared incapacitation, exactly 50 days ago. We remain incapacitated with our primary needs not met.
On the 3rd of September 2019, doctors nationwide downed their tools, following a letter delivered to government 3 weeks prior, stating our incapacitation and how we will be unable to continue providing services if changes are not made. This ultimatum came on the back of numerous failed attempts to engage with the Health Services Board and responsible ministries to review our salaries which have lost value of over 1500% as a result of inflation. Doctors were now working for less than USD$100 per month, a sum no longer able to cover rentals, bus fares, and other essential daily expenses. In our view the situation has become synonymous with modern day slavery. Doctors were forced to act swiftly and decisively, in a bid to secure a living wage.
In response to this move, the employer chose to bring us before the courts, saying our actions amounted to illegal collective job action. The basis on which the Labour Court ruled our actions to be illegal remains a mystery to us as reasons haves not yet been given. Our legal team is in the middle of filing an appeal to seek further clarification and to challenge the decision. The ruling went on to issue a directive to all doctors to return to their stations. While there is a willingness on the part of our constituents to comply with the court ruling, we maintain that we remain physically and materially incapacitated.
Along the journey, our acting President, Dr Peter Gabriel Magombeyi, who had received threats via text message about the doctors’ incapacitation, was abducted by 3 unidentified men, whose agenda is yet to be determined. We are glad to announce that Dr Peter Magombeyi was discharged from the hospital he was admitted to in South Africa. He is currently receiving outpatient care and counselling, whilst in South Africa.
On the 7th of October we exited the Health Apex Council, in what has been termed ‘Apexit’ a landmark decision made by ZHDA. Appetite has been a long overdue assignment for ZHDA. We came to the realisation that the current negotiating platform of the HSBNP, which sees the employer seated on one end of the discussion table and representatives from all health care cadres on the other end, failed to satisfactory address our grievances as doctors. Doctors, due to the nature of their work, are required to report for duty on a daily basis; an impossibility with our current earnings, if we are to make ends meet. It became evident that we would need a separate negotiating panel.
We are grateful to our legal team and the assistance of Veritas for drafting a set of regulations that should see us create this separate forum. We have submitted the draft Regulations to HSB, the Permanent Secretary Dr Agnes Mahomva and the minister Dr Obadiah Moyo and we call on the Ministry to urgently promulgate the Regulations so that meaningful dialogue can take place.
The 50 days have marked a long journey to freedom. The most recent assault has been the withholding of October salaries for all doctors who have not been reporting to work due to the fact that they are financially liquidated. This move has done nothing but further incapacitate and embolden the doctors to continue fighting for a living wage. Through our affiliate associations we have been forced to setup a crowd funding platform to help ease the financial crisis being faced by our members.
ZHDA remains open for meaningful dialogue with the Employer with a neutral mediator to swiftly resolve the crisis. In the past 50 days we have met formally with the employer, through the HSBNP, only on two occasions. Following the first and second meetings the employer offered paltry 30% and 60% salary increments respectively, with both meeting ending in stalemate as offers were totally detached from the reality of the cost of living increase of over 1500%. At the third meeting, ZHDA opted to decline the invitation, choosing instead to push for creation of a separate negotiating platform. We have since had many informal meetings with HSB.
We acknowledge the attempts by our government so far in trying to address the genuine pleas raised by our doctors. The offers put forward, however, so far leave a lot to be desired and make us doubt in the sincerity of the employer in committing to improve the welfare of doctors and resolving the impasse in the shortest possible time.
We maintain our demand of having our on-call allowance reviewed at the prevailing interbank rate of that month since we know that our employer has the capacity to do so. We consider this as viable and long-lasting solution to our predicament and resulting crisis.
As doctors we are deeply saddened by the collapse that has befallen our healthcare system and the constant suffering and needless loss of life that is a daily occurrence within our institutions. Our hospitals are now health hazards. We condemn the gross negligence by the responsible authorities to prioritize our health care system. As ZHDA we vow that we will not rest until we see a healthcare system that our Acting President Dr Magombeyi fought for and continues to fight for.
As an association we condemn in the strongest possible terms the use of hate speech and the threats targeting our members and the ZHDA leadership. Such actions can only stall progress and will not deter us from continuing to advocate for a well – trained and motivated health force adequately – resourced hospitals. Every citizen should have the means to access their constitutionally- guaranteed right to health.
Allow me to emphasise that the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors’ Association, we are apolitical, and we do not pursue any political agenda. Any politicised comments made by ZHDA members are done so in their personal capacity, as a reflection of their personal views and ZHDA cannot be held accountable for such.
We reiterate that it is counter- productive for the Employer to politicize what is clearly a labour dispute and genuine grievances of doctors.
Our doctors remain committed to medical professionalism and to promoting an environment that builds capacity, innovation and offers the best possible care to our patients. As the ZHDA we remain hopeful that long lasting solutions may be found through robust and meaningful dialogue.