Zimbabwe has passed a law banning healthcare workers, such as nurses and doctors, from prolonged strikes and granting workers or union leaders up to six months in prison, state media and a government spokesman reported.
The regulation, signed by President Emmerson Mnangagwa last week but released on Wednesday, says health workers can go on strike for up to three days as they are seen as an essential service.
Government spokesman Nick Mangwana said on Twitter that health workers should continue to provide emergency services during the strike.
Other countries, including neighboring South Africa and Zambia, limit health worker strikes but impose less severe penalties, such as dismissal, suspension or pay cuts.
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Repeated, week-long strikes by health workers have strained Zimbabwe’s public health facilities, which are already in disrepair due to crumbling infrastructure and shortages of medicines.
Public health workers argue that their salary – for many around PLN 361,000 (US$100) a month – and lack of basic amenities make their work unsustainable.
The unemployment rate in the country is also high, with the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) putting the rate at 90 percent.
The South African country, which once boasted some of the best public health facilities and staff in the region, is now battling a brain drain as nurses and doctors look for better options elsewhere, particularly in the UK.