DESPITE widespread condemnation of the Health Services Bill at consultation level, Zimbabwe has proceeded to sign the controversial Health Services Act into law.

By Staff Reporter

According to the new law, any individual who is a member of the governing body of any trade union or representative body of members of the Health Service which incites or organises any collective job action contrary to subsection shall be guilty of any an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding level 4 or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or to both such fine and imprisonment.

The principal Act is amended by the insertion, after section 16, of the following section “16A Restriction of right to strike for Health Service. (1) In this section—“critical care” or “intensive care” means medical care of any patient with a life-threatening injury or illness;“ medical emergency” means a sudden injury or serious illness that, if not treated immediately, could cause death or serious harm to the patient; “essential service” bears the same meaning as in the Labour Act [Chapter 28:01]; “collective job action” bears the same meaning as in the Labour Act [Chapter 28:01].

“(2) Notwithstanding anything in the Labour Act [Chapter 28:01]—(a) the Health Service shall be deemed as an essential service referred to in section 65(3) of the Constitution; and (b) no collective job action whether lawful or unlawful shall continue for an uninterrupted period of 72 hours or for more than 72 hours in any given 14-day period; and (c) notice of any collective job action must be given in writing  48 hours prior to the commencement of such collective job action.

“(3) Any individual who is a member of the governing body of any trade union or representative
body of members of the Health Service which incites or organises any collective job action 
contrary to subsection (2)(b) or (c) shall be guilty of any an offence and liable to a fine 
not exceeding level 4 or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or to both 
such fine and imprisonment.”

According to the Act,a member of the Health Service is under an obligation, whilst employed by the Commission—(a) to provide the professional skill, expertise, care and service expected of him or her as a member of the profession to which he or she belongs; (b) during any collective job action, to provide the skill, expertise, care and service to patients in a medical emergency or needing critical or intensive care.

“(5) If the Health Service Commission alleges that an individual member is in breach of subsection (4)(a) or (b), the Commission shall communicate a written complaint against that member to the appropriate disciplinary authority in accordance with the Health Service Regulations, 2006, published in Statutory Instrument 117 of 2006 (or any other law that may be substituted for the same). The disciplinary authority shall—(a) have the power to discipline that member (and report the matter to the relevant council in terms of the Health Professions Act [Chapter 27:19] where necessary); and (b) be deemed to be seized with the complaint from the date that it received it, and conduct and complete the disciplinary hearing on the complaint within a reasonable time; and(c) communicate to the Commission of its decision in writing.”

Commenting on the new law, Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) Executive Director, Mr Itai Rusike said the Health Services Ammendment Bill is neither democratic nor consultative.

“Public sector health workers are now disadvantaged in several ways as they no right to strike and they cannot engage in collective bargaining. It is unfortunate that health workers are caught in the middle of a system that is slow to respond to their needs and ethical pressures not to take collective job action.

“The unpopular Health Services Act will most likely exacerbates the exodus of health workers from the country thereby putting extra pressure on those who will remain on their jobs. Instead of coming up with a draconian piece of legislation, the government should plug the outflow of health workers by addressing their conditions of services because there will be no health systems strengthening without the health workers,” said Mr Rusike.HealthTimes

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