HARARE – Although the lantern of Florence Nightingale has long dimmed, many of the obscure illusions it dissipated are still flickering in the minds of senior health officials.
The obsolete reading of nursing as a flaccid, vocational duty has been cruelly exposed with the ongoing national strike that has revealed a culture of complacency about the demanding role of the nursing profession.
Indeed, the very idea of nursing as a legitimate profession as opposed to a “vocation” is something the government has yet to come to terms with.
The current strike crisis and the threat it poses to public healthcare is a build-up of government’s delaying tactics since 11 years ago.
The nurses first went on strike on Tuesday to press the government to honour its promises of improving their working conditions.
Earning a measly $285 a month, the nurses — who staged a parade at the Health Services Board (HSB) offices last Tuesday and are unfurling another demo next Tuesday — are among the lowest paid in the state and would rightly need an increase.
The strike comes two months after the nurses called off another crippling strike after reaching an agreement with government, ending a standoff which came at huge cost as hundreds of patients died during the chaos which ravaged the State hospitals in over three weeks.
With the HSB secretariat unmoved over the latest calls to improve their conditions of service, the nurses felt they had no choice but to step up their industrial action until their grievances have been addressed.
It is totally unfair that senior nurses that have been in service for up to 10 years take home $285 in 30 days!
After being hired, nurses remain in Grade D1 instead of D3. Clearly there is no pay equity among nurses.
Considering that these rolling protests are clearly imperilling public health, it has become increasingly important that the HSB and its secretariat, especially the human resources division, give a rational explanation for why they have chosen to pay their nurses this pathetic rate.
The HSB must urgently take steps for creating compensation grades that are fair. If the HSB secretariat lacks knowledge of compensation design principles, it should consult with experts for guidance as compensation structure is a critical element within any organisation.
At this stage, there is no financial package that has even been proposed by the HSB.
Government must urgently make a concession to nurses, and this need not pose a threat to public service pay policy.
After all, government has already promised to address this; it must simply honour its promise. This growing militancy among nurses must be addressed.
Zimbabwean nurses have long harboured feelings of injustice and neglect, and rightly so.
Some nursing sources have stated that the pay rise, although it is a practical necessity, is not the real issue at the heart of the crisis, but the inefficiency of the HSB secretariat, pointedly the body’s human resources manager Norah Zhou.
The major issues concern the overwork of nurses who perform daily medical services ranging from general care, education, counselling to the most menial of non-nursing duties, often in grossly understaffed hospitals.
As rightly stated by Zimbabwe Nurses Association secretary general Enock Dongo, nurses with three or four diplomas on top of a nursing degree earn $285, even those with specialities in midwifery, Intensive Care Unit, physiotherapy!
There is clearly something wrong here.
At present, despite the humongous problems bedevilling the public health sector, President Robert Mugabe’s government continues to allocate a measly budget to hospitals and clinics, slashing the Health ministry vote from $331 million last year to a disappointing $282 million this year, at a time public hospitals are struggling under the weight of a myriad other problems, including the shortage of drugs.
Even if strike action is called off, nurses have shown that what they really require is respect not begrudged concessions.
Although an air of optimism has surrounded ongoing talks on a possible deal, the nurses have threatened to escalate their dispute with the government if their concerns are not addressed.
Nurses seem to have discovered their worth.