Harare (New Ziana) – The government said Tuesday it was considering amending the Health Services Act to, among other things, designate health care workers as essential service providers who cannot go on strike for indefinite periods.
Government health workers have downed tools on numerous occasions in recent times over various issues including remuneration and conditions of service.
The strikes, which have at times lasted up to a month, have caused untold suffering among the majority who cannot afford treatment at private health facilities.
In an effort to ensure health care services are provided continuously while also catering for the right of the workers to petition government, the amendments were brought before Cabinet on Tuesday.
Health and Child Care Minister Dr Obadiah Moyo said the amendments did not mean that government was withdrawing the workers’ right to petition their employer.
“At the moment we seem to be working on a willy-nilly basis and we want to make sure that all our workers appreciate that it is actually (provided for in) an Act, that when you are health worker you are providing an essential service,” he said.
“The Bill will make sure that collective bargaining and job action cannot be an indefinite exercise as it will endanger the patients’ lives. So there will be a defined period of time where people can voice their concerns but not indefinitely, maybe a matter of hours carrying a placard and making sure that your statement is heard but to go forever and allow patients to die, that is the bottom line.”
He added; “We really have to make sure that while we should be allowing people to express themselves they should express themselves in the correct manner, in a responsible manner.”
Dr Moyo said the changes were also as a result of recommendations, some dating back as far as 1992.
“We are in a democratic country where people are allowed to voice their concerns but if you are part of an essential service you are expected also to show your respect especially in the case of health care personnel you should show your respect to those you are looking after.”
“We should not be in a position to allow our patients to die.”
Dr Moyo said government was determined to improve the welfare and conditions of service for its health workers.
“We appreciate that our health care workforce also needs to survive but everybody else also needs to survive so we should be able to work within a framework where we can say yes we have heard it, yes we are going to do something about it,” he said.
Other changes proposed include designating the Health Services Board as the Health Services Commission (HSC) and to provide for the functions of the HSC and its administration.
Health care workers’ representatives, Dr Moyo said would also be incorporated into the HSC.
“This is a very good move, it is a plus for the health care service and it will align all the ideas and the expectations of the health workers but on top of it, it will ensure that there is timeous delivery of requests by the health care workers, from the health care workers to the commission for immediate answers because there will be more access,” he said.