MORE than 1 200 nurses who failed to comply with a Government directive to revert to the normal working hours did not receive their November salaries and bonuses after they were struck off the payroll by their employer, the Health Service Board (HSB).
Zimbabwe Nurses Association (Zina) said more than 1 200 of its members who defied the Government directive to revert to the normal working hours did not receive their November salaries and bonuses on the no-work-no-pay basis.
Nurses had crafted a working schedule under which they worked for a few hours a week dubbed “flexible hours”, but the arrangement proved unsustainable, especially with the threat of Covid-19 continuing to hover over the country, resulting in Government cancelling the plan and ordering a return to normal duty rosters.
The flexible working hours originally entailed working long hours of up to 12 for two days a week, an arrangement that was introduced through a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) to cushion health workers, particularly nurses, from high transport costs leading to an indefinite strike over erosion of their salaries by inflation.
Most nurses were now working two days a week for 12 hours a day before Government resolved that all health workers should now revert to normal working hours.
Government said it would now compensate for the “flexi-hours” with a tax waiver on all health workers and a US$75 risk allowance.
Government, through a circular, recently directed provincial medical directors and central hospitals’ chief executive officers to scrap the flexible working hours arrangement for nurses and revert to the one which was introduced during the Covid-19 induced lockdown period after Zina cited incapacitation.
Zina president Mr Enock Dongo said his organisation noted that nurses who didn’t revert to the normal working hours were removed from the payroll.
“Everyone who did not follow the new normal working hours schedule were removed from the payroll simply because they adhered to the flexible hours not because they were on strike.
“The nurses affected are more than 1 200 and even up to today those nurses are not on the payroll and they didn’t receive their November salaries and bonuses,” he said.
Mr Dongo urged Government to reinstate the nurses on the salary schedule so that they are able to report for duty.
“How do you expect them to report for work and efficiently offer their services? We took this matter to court challenging Government’s decision to impose normal working hours on them without consultation and we got an interim relief,” he said.
It is however, yet to be seen whether the HSB will put back the affected nurses on the payroll following last week’s ruling by the High Court reversing Government’s decision to scrap the flexible working hours arrangement for nurses.
The ruling by Harare High Court judge Justice Joseph Mafusire followed an urgent chamber application by Zina, through their lawyer Mr Tinotenda Matonhodze of Matizanadzo and Warhurst Legal Practitioners, challenging the Government directive.
Zina, in their court papers, cited the HSB, Health and Child Care Minister, Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga and his Permanent Secretary Air Commodore Dr Jasper Chimedza, as respondents.
Justice Mafusire ruled that pending the finalisation of an application for a declaratory order under case number HC6479/20, the respondents are barred from implementing the directive by Dr Chimedza on October 19, 2020, which called upon nurses to resume the normal shifts.
Mr Dongo said the only way to resolve the stalemate was through dialogue.
“We can only address this impasse by going back to the bipartite forum. We agreed that flexible hours can only be removed when Government reviews our salaries and that hasn’t happened since 2019. We also raised the issue of Covid-19 where we wanted to decongest the workplace,” he said.
“The decision by our employer to withhold salaries for some nurses who failed to comply with normal hours directive is an act of cruelty. What happened is the nurses were not on strike, but followed the flexible hours duties since we were contesting the removal of flexible hours in court.”
Mr Dongo said they received a circular from their Permanent Secretary which was cancelling the flexible hours and directing provincial medical directors and hospital chief executive officers to implement the normal working hours.
“What we believe is that the flexible hours came through a process of bipartite forum which is a legal entity in health delivery system where workers and Government come together on a roundtable with equal powers and then come up with an agreement,” he said.
“The flexible working hours was a product of CBA and according to that the bipartite forum was established by Statutory Instrument 111 of 2006.
This SI cannot be unilaterally removed by any person and even the Minister doesn’t have the powers to do that. Unfortunately, we have discovered that the new Permanent Secretary is acting on misleading information from the HSB.”
Contacted for comment, HSB chairperson Dr Paulinus Sikosana said:
“It is difficult for me to say whether they (nurses) were paid or not because I didn’t see their pay slips indicating that they didn’t receive their pay. However, there were some who did not come to work and for that they were not paid.”
“They took the matter to court pertaining to the issue of flexible hours and usually when issues are still before courts, we don’t discuss them.”
In May, Government announced that HSB has removed 1 032 defiant nurses from its pay sheets after they declined to resume normal working hours and insisted on either not working or working sharply reduced hours.
Besides not paying those who are not working, HSB was now instituting disciplinary hearings for at least 1 280 nurses, who have defied the call to return to normal duties.