We are paupers receiving slave wages: Zimbabwe nurses

Zimbabwe's largest nurses’ union says its members are now incapacitated and would be unable to attend work.

Harare, Zimbabwe.
Timothy Marks/Getty Images
  • As Covid-19 cases climb in Zimbabwe, hospitals lack basic facilities.
  • Nurses earn less than R1 000 per month at the official exchange rate.
  • Zimbabwe’s largest nurses’ union says the wages of its members amount to “slave wages”.

Zimbabwe’s largest nurses’ union has announced that its members are now incapacitated and would be unable to attend work, citing low pay that it said could no longer meet basic needs.

A nurse in Zimbabwe earns an average of Z$3 000 per month (less than R1 000) at the official exchange rate.

This amount, nurses said, is not sufficient to cover basic needs in an economy ravaged by hyperinflation, which came out at 786% at the last count in May.

“The salaries we are currently earning are meagre as to amount to slave wages,” read part of a statement issued on Monday by the Zimbabwe Nurses’ Association.

The association, which represents around 15 000 state nurses, said a nurse in Zimbabwe had been turned into “a pauper.”

Monday’s statement is the second issued in a month, following another one issued on 8 June when the union urged its members to stop going to work to press for higher pay – although some nurses did not heed the call.

‘Subsidising our employer’

“For those who have not been going to work, continue withholding your labour. To those who have been subsidising our employer by going to work, mostly because you may have an alternative source of income, we call upon you to reconsider this and withdraw your labour as well,” read Monday’s statement.

The Zimbabwean government announced last month it was going to give its workers US$75 Covid-19 allowances, plus a 50% salary increment.

But speaking from Harare on Tuesday, a nurse, who requested anonymity, said nurses had “not yet received the announced package”.

Chairperson of the Health Service Board, which deals with the welfare of health sector workers, Dr Paulinus Sikosana, told Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Health and Child Care on Tuesday that failure to process payments by Treasury “jeopardises efforts to lure health workers back to work”.

He said workers were demanding that their salaries be reverted to those prevailing prior to October 2018 levels. At that time, salaries were approximately US$500.

The strike by nurses comes at a time when the number of positive Covid-19 cases is on the rise, having reached 574 as of Monday, including seven deaths.

It also comes at a time the public healthcare system faces shortages of basic drugs and lacks essential equipment and, at times, even running water.

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