Although the health is a critical sector whose operations need no interruption it is concerning to note that the recently published Health Service Amendment Bill seeks to suppress health workers from speaking out or protesting against poor wages and service conditions (dilapidating equipment). This will impede upon health worker`s rights and the ramification of such amendments will cascade down to their performance culminating in poor service delivery. The consequences, are therefore, detrimental as they aggravate service delivery in an already decrepitude and dilapidating sector which the majority of the citizens relies on.
The Health Service Amendment Bill intends to align the Health Service Act (Chapter 15:16) to the constitution by classifying health delivery service as a commission, a paradigmatic shift from the current board status. A noble reform which should be celebrated in an ideal environment with competitive salaries for health personnel. However, the unavailability of such has negative ramifications. This is because among other things, the bill places parameters, limits to collective job action for more than 72 hours as well as outlaw strike incitement. Section 2 and 3 of the Bill notes that:
“(2) Notwithstanding anything in the Labour Act [Chapter 28:01] — (a) the Health Service shall be deemed as an essential service referred to in section 65(3) of the Constitution; and (b) 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 (c) notice of any collective job action must be given in writing 48 hours prior to the commencement of such collective job action,”
“(3) 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 sub-section 2(b) 25 or (c) shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding level 10 or to imprisonment for a period no exceeding three years or to both such fine and such imprisonment.”
Although health service is essential and requires uninterrupted operation, the above amendments are viewed as retrogressive and oppressive, disregarding the rights of health workers. Instead of creating a conducive environment for engagement, the government outlaws all options that health workers have to force them to engage with them. The same modus operandi has been used before, April 2018, when the government fired approximately 16 000 striking nurses3 instead of engaging with them. To this end, the government is more concerned about using the stick than the carrot as such it should be prepared to face the consequences which in this scenario range from the mass exodus of health workers, poor services as well as the derailment of the National Development Strategy 1. Zimbabwe seeks to attain an upper middle-class economy by 2030 and the health sector is critical in the attainment of such as the sector is responsible for human capital development which is the nerve-center of national development and economic growth.
If the government is to attain a competitive health sector it must address the concerns raised by health workers and not infringe their rights. The Bill does less of that and creates an atmosphere for the proliferation of disgruntlement among health workers. If the government was undertaking robust consultations and a feasibility study it would have meant that in in his Mid-term Budget Review, the Minister of Finance would have given the health sector an incremental allocation or draw down from the ZWL 9.8 billion surplus he reported. If one is to use the current ruling exchange rate which is at US$ 1= ZWL 85 the surplus is US$ 115,294,117 and this would go a long way in turning around the fortunes of the health sector.