Striking Zimbabwean doctors defied a government ultimatum to return to work on Monday, after rejecting a 60% pay rise offer they say is not enough to keep up with soaring prices of basic goods.
The southern African nation’s economy is grappling with its worst crisis in a decade, with triple-digit inflation, rolling power cuts and shortages of US dollars, medicines and fuel reviving memories of 2008’s hyper-inflation under late President Robert Mugabe.
The Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA), the union for junior and middle level doctors in the public sector, pulled out of the Health Apex Council representing public health workers in negotiations with government, saying it no longer served their interests.
The association said the government offer was “ridiculous” as it would take their monthly salaries to around 1 700 Zimbabwe dollars ($111), well below their demand of a 400% salary hike.
More than 100 members marched at Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare demanding higher pay and vowing not to return to work.
The doctors have been on strike for more than a month, which has seen some patients turned away from public hospitals struggling with shortages of medicines.
ZHDA said in a statement government was not willing to address their concerns but responded with “intimidation and threats of disciplinary action or dismissals.”
“The will and desire is there but the means to execute their duties does not exist,” it said.
Health Minister Obadiah Moyo, who issued the ultimatum for doctors to return to work or face disciplinary action, could not immediately comment.
Tapiwa Mungofa, ZHDA treasurer, later told reporters the World Health Organisation and other United Nations agencies should help raise funding for Zimbabwe’s health sector and broker a solution to end the strike.
The doctors want salaries indexed to the US dollar because the Zimbabwe dollar is losing value against the greenback while earnings are eroded by inflation, which the International Monetary Fund said stood at nearly 300% in August.
Government raised the price of diesel and petrol by up to 27% on Saturday, followed by increases in prices of goods including sugar, cooking oil and milk and transport.
Last week, President Emmerson Mnangagwa pleaded for time and patience to revive the economy.
Hopes it would quickly rebound under Mnangagwa, who took over after Mugabe was deposed in November 2017, faded fast, as Zimbabweans grapple with inflation that erodes earnings and savings.