DOCTORS and nurses working in public health institutions will no longer be allowed to go on strike for an uninterrupted period spanning more than three days under proposed changes to the Health Services Act.
Amendments to the Act, which were gazetted on Friday, once passed, will also require health care providers to give two days’ notice in writing before embarking on a collective job action. In addition, all medical professionals will be required by law to provide care to patients in a medical emergency or needing critical or intensive care during any legal collective job action.
Any worker representative who incites or organises an illegal job action could also face up to three years in jail, under the changes which are meant to bring back discipline into a profession that has been plagued by illegal job actions in the past.
Chief director in the Ministry of Health and Child Care Dr Maxwell Hove said once passed the law will allow health care workers to strike for three days and wait for two weeks before embarking on another strike.
“Healthcare workers will not be able to go on strike for more than three days and will stay at work for a minimum of two weeks before the law allows them to go on another three-day strike. In each case no strike can go beyond three days and emergencies will also be covered during every strike.”
The amendments also seek to replace the Health Services Board with an independent commission – the Health Services Commission, which will among other things create grades in the health service and fix conditions of service for doctors and nurses.
“Judicial Service Commission, Defence Forces Service Commission, Police Service Commission are examples of Commissions whose members are public officers but are not members of the Civil Service Commission as per section 199 of the Constitution. The same will apply to the Health Service Commission under consideration,” added Dr Hove.
Crucially, the proposed changes will designate health care workers as essential service providers as defined under the Labour Act.
The Labour Act designates any service whose interruption endangers the life, personal safety or health of the whole or any part of the public as an essential service.
Reads the Health Service Amendment Bill in part:
“The Health Service shall be deemed as an essential service referred to in section 65 (3) of the Constitution; and 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 notice of any collective job action must be given in writing 48 hours prior to the commencement of such collective job action.
“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 subsection 2(b) 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.”
The Health Service Commission will be given powers to discipline any medical worker found to be in contravention of the new provisions.
The Commission can also report the offending member to their relevant professional council in terms of the Health Professions Act.
However, Zimbabwe Nurses Association (Zina) president Mr Enoch Dongo said there was a need for Government to consult health care professionals before enacting the amendments.
“It is never the intention of health workers to withdraw their labour, in fact it is the last option. So, it is important for Government to consult health personnel when crafting such laws.”
Senior Hospital Doctors Association (SHDA) president Dr Shingai Nyaguse requested for questions in writing and had not responded by the time of going to print.