Zimbabwean nurses stopped work at a major government hospital in the capital Harare on Wednesday, demanding to be paid in U.S. dollars because soaring inflation has drastically reduced the value of their local-currency salaries.
They began their protest despite concerns about the impact on Zimbabwe’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, which has infected 387 people and killed four in the southern African country.
Anti-riot police blocked the entrance to Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare as hundreds of nurses picketed inside.
The workers besieged the country’s Health Service Board (HSB) offices demanding an explanation on the latest development which they say compounds to their woes.
Speaking to Report Focus News on condition of anonymity some workers said the government is insulting them.
“We are here at the employer’s office to demand an explanation on why our allowances were slashed without notice. The Government is insulting us with these actions they are taking. It is unreasonable to have allowances without notice,” said one worker
“I am forced to use public transport and when I knock off no one bothers to check if I had arrived home safe. They are driving top of the range vehicles and get free fuel yet the one who is doing the dirty work is the nurse,” she said “I am paying rent in US dollars and everything that I am paying is pegged in US. It is not fair right now I cannot afford to buy my own pant. Some people will label us and it has been like that. They have never communicated with us on their action to slash our salaries and this is the repercussion of their actions.”
The health worker were later addressed by Health Apex chairperson Enoch Dongo who is also Zimbabwe Nurses Association president said the Apex had a meeting with HSB Chief Executive.
“We had a meeting with the HSB chief executive and we told him why you are all gathered here. He promised to respond to our grievances which we had already sent to the board. However, on the way forward we are going to engage other health unions tomorrow morning and come up with a position. As of now we have a position as the Health Apex, we are only waiting signatures from the other 22 unions” said Dongo
Some of the nurses held placards with slogans including “Should we go into prostitution to pay rent?” or “My body is tired, I am struggling.”
“Nurses now want U.S. dollar salaries. They want money that has purchasing power,” Zimbabwe Nurses Association secretary general Enock Dongo told Reuters.
The government said last week it would soon start salary negotiations with workers paid by the state but that it cannot pay their wages in U.S. dollars.
Dongo said the least-paid nurses were earning a net monthly salary of 2,000 Zimbabwe dollars and warned that the boycott could continue beyond Wednesday and spread to other hospitals.
The Zimbabwe dollar is pegged at 25 to the United States dollar but trades at around 80 on the black market. Businesses calculate prices using black market rates.
Inflation has risen to 785%. The price of bread and sugar increased by at least 30% this week alone.
Workers fear the country is returning to the 2008 era when a bout of hyperinflation rendered salaries and savings worthless. The government brought back the Zimbabwe dollar currency last year in June. Reuters