Zimbabwe sacked 16,000 striking nurses as the new government seeks to keep a lid on labour unrest in the build-up to the first elections since the fall of Robert Mugabe.
Nurses walked out on Monday over unpaid allowances and other issues, leaving hospitals under-staffed. The action came days after junior doctors ended a month-long walk-out over pay and working conditions.
Vice President Constantino Chiwenga accused nurses of staging a “politically motivated” walk-out and said they would be replaced by retired and unemployed staff. The nurses’ union told members to stay calm as it considered its response.
The Zimbabwe Nurses Association (ZINA) said it gave its employer, the Health Services Board, until Thursday to reverse the mass dismissal or face legal action.
Chiwenga, the retired army general who led a de facto military coup against Mugabe in November, said ZINA rejected a $17 million offer to clear wage arrears.
ZINA said it was open to talks with government and its grievances had not yet been resolved.
“Government regards this lack of remorse as politically motivated and thus going beyond concerns of conditions of services and worker welfare,” Chiwenga said.
He did not say which political group was behind the strike. Mugabe regularly accused opposition groups of trying to undermine his government by encouraging public sector strikes that punctuated his 37 years in power.
The Zimbabwe Teachers Union, which threatens to go on strike next month over poor pay, said government should rescind its “inhuman and unilateral decision.” A doctors and lawyers union said the government decision was illegal.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who replaced Mugabe in November, will stand in elections set for July against a revitalised opposition Movement for Democratic Change party led by 40-year-old Nelson Chamisa.
Mnangagwa promises to revitalise the southern African country’s economy after decades of severe mismanagement. Cash shortages mean banks are forced to limit withdrawals, unemployment remains above 80% and government still struggles to pay workers on time.