The strike comes as the country is experiencing an upsurge in coronavirus cases with 567 infections, including six deaths, recorded so far compared to 132 cases a month ago.
“The reality which any reasonable person will accept is that we are incapacitated from attending work even if we wanted to,” the Zimbabwe Nurses’ Association (ZINA), which represents around 15,000 state nurses, said in a statement.
“The $3,000 (US$53) average salary we earn is not sufficient to cover basic needs without even adding the costs required to attend work,” it said.
Zimbabwe is facing its worst economic crisis in over a decade. Basic goods are scarce and the value of the Zimbabwean dollar continues to tumble, pushing official annual inflation to 785.6 percent in May.
The union said a third of the average nurse’s salary could only buy a two-litre (67-ounce) bottle of cooking oil, a two-kilogramme (4.4-pound) packet of sugar, two litres of fruit juice, a two-kilogramme packet of rice and two loaves of bread.
“A nurse still has to pay rent, school fees, medical fees and other essential items. For those who own cars, they cannot even fuel up to full tank because it costs more than their salary to do so,” it said.
On June 8, the union urged its members to stop going to work to press for higher pay but some nurses did not heed the call.
The association called on those who were not coming to work to continue absenting themselves, and for those who were “subsidising our employer by going to work” to join their striking colleagues.
The government has not responded to the call.
In the second city of Bulawayo, meanwhile, at least 12 people have died of diarrhoeal diseases while hundreds were treated at local clinics and hospitals.
The nurses strike is the latest in a string job walkouts.
In March, nurses and doctors staged a walkout month in protest over a lack of protective clothing to care for coronavirus patients.
The public healthcare system — once among the best in Africa — faces shortages of basic drugs and lacks essential equipment and at times, even running water.
Since taking charge of Zimbabwe following a coup in 2017, President Emmerson Mnangagwa has vowed to improve the beleaguered economy and seek foreign investment to improve public services.