Zimbabwe threatens health workers with jail if they strike

FILE - Health workers led by nurses take part in a demonstration over poor salaries at Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare on June, 21, 2022. Zimbabwe has decreed a law that bans health workers such as nurses and doctors from prolonged strikes, while imposing punishments of up to 6 months jail time for defiant workers and union leaders. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi, File) (Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi, Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

HARARE – Zimbabwe has brought in a law that bans health workers such as nurses and doctors from prolonged strikes, imposing punishments of up to six months in jail for defiant workers or union leaders, state-run media and a government spokesman said Wednesday.

The provision, signed into law by President Emmerson Mnangagwa last week but made public now, stipulates that health workers can only strike for up to three days because they are considered an essential service.

Health professionals should continue providing emergency services during a strike, tweeted government spokesman, Nick Mangwana.

Other countries including neighboring South Africa and Zambia limit strikes by health workers but impose less severe punishments, such as dismissals, work suspensions or docking salaries.

Frequent and weekslong strikes by health workers have for years strained Zimbabwe's public health facilities, which are already in a poor condition due to dilapidated infrastructure and medicine shortages.

Public health workers argue that their salaries — around $100 a month for many — and lack of basic equipment make their jobs untenable.

The southern African country, which once boasted some of the best public health care facilities and personnel in Africa, is now struggling with brain drain as nurses and doctors seek better opportunities elsewhere, mainly in the United Kingdom.