Government has stated that the drastic action it has taken against all the striking nurses for going on a two-week strike that paralysed the operations at the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) and other hospitals was the best option meant to instil order and discipline in the civil service.
Minister of Health Joseph Kasonde yesterday told Parliament that firing nurses was the best option available to the Patriotic Front (PF) government over the nurses and midwives who went on what had been described as an illegal strike.
Dr. Kasonde said that the definition of essential workers and the punishment to be meted when they go on what government is calling an illegal strike was such that there was no option but to dismiss the nurses.
“I fully agree with the need to do everything before dismissing them. A number of meetings were held with the nurses and I personally went to UTH. We had no choice but to put it as an ultimatum and I am of the belief that government went far to try and accommodate the nurses but could not succeed,” said Dr. Kasonde.
The Health Minister stated that he had pleaded with the nurses on behalf of government that the Industrial Relations Act which defined the limitations and action of those who were essential workers clearly stated that the punishment of going on illegal strike was dismissal.
“And it is on this basis that it was important to establish whether the action was legal or illegal because of the absence of the declaration by union of disputes. This discretion does not negate the law.”
Member s of Parliament however blamed the PF government for causing what was now being described as indiscipline when his government had promised the workers what could not afford to pay.
“That is the reason we are seeing this indiscipline. Tell us what steps you will take to ensure that the nurses don’t go on strike again and cause unnecessary deaths.”
But Dr. Kasonde claimed that at no time did the PF government promise nurses and midwives a 100 per cent salary increment stating that the 100 percent being demanded by nurses was not promised by the PF government in any statement. He said there might have been a number of misconceptions and misunderstanding over what government offered and promised the nurses.
In his statement to parliament Dr. Kasonde said that despite efforts by government to improve the conditions of service for the health workers, the nurses at the UTH and other health facilities continued with the illegal work stoppage. Dr Kasonde tabulated the demands by the nurses who were on strike saying among some of the demands they made were that they wanted 100 present salary increment instead of the four percent awarded. Other demands were K2,000 housing allowance because accommodation in Lusaka was expensive, K2000 night duty allowance and ZUNO to negotiate with government for nurses not to be treated like cadres but essential workers.