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JUST IN: VP Chiwenga decrees that all graduating doctors join the army

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  • A total of 230 final year medical students who are graduating this year will all be employed as Junior Resident Medical Officers (JRMO) by the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) which will then deploy them to public hospitals, a development which will make it virtually impossible for them to embark on strikes and other job action.

By Mutsa Makuvaza

HEALTH and Child Care Minister VP Constantino Chiwenga, a former army general, has decreed that all the junior doctors who are graduating this year must be recruited as military doctors, or they will not work in government hospitals.

A total of 230 final year medical students who are graduating this year will all be employed as Junior Resident Medical Officers (JRMO) by the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) which will then deploy them to public hospitals, a development which will make it virtually impossible for them to embark on strikes and other job action.

In a September 28 letter addressed to the Permanent Secretary for Health and Child Care Jasper Chimedza, a retired soldier, the HSB which is the employer of all public medical officers in Zimbabwe, says the ZDF has agreed to absorb all the 230 graduating doctors this year.

The HSB further advises that the Health Ministry will not be filling any JRMO post this year. This effectively means all graduating doctors will have to sign up with the army.

“In view of the treasury concurrence, the Health Service Board is recommending that the 230 JRMOs be employed under the Zimbabwe Defence Forces who have indicated that they are willing and ready to do so,” the HSB, which falls under Chiwenga’s ministry, wrote.

Under section 65 of Zimbabwe’s constitution, members of the security services are not allowed to engage in collective bargaining or join trade unions.

Doctors’ unions said they are consulting about the next steps, but lawyers warned the planned move may be unconstitutional.

“The health minister wants to recruit them under the defence forces, where they will be given draconian contracts which don’t allow them to strike,” said Dr Anele Bhebhe of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association.

“Their plan ultimately is to stop future strikes.”

The HSB says it is following an agreement struck with the Finance Ministry in August this year that medical doctors at public hospitals will be employed via the Zimbabwe Defence Forces Commission, which employs all members of the defence forces.

“We are seeing a quite obvious militarisation of the health sector,” said Norman Matara of the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR).

“Doctors are facing new threats everyday. Last week, the government published new guidelines for obtaining a Certificate of Good Standing for those who have found better jobs overseas, the requirement that this must be approved by the health ministry secretary. We have also been told that to renew our practising certificates, doctors must now get the minister’s signature.

“All these measures are an attack on the medical profession which has led the resistance against slave wages being given to government employees. They want to whip doctors into line,” Matara added.

The main opposition MDC Alliance criticised the move.

“Doctors did not go to medical school for five years only to be told on graduation day that they are soldiers. Their legitimate expectations, dreams and professional standing are on the line just because of bankrupt rulers,” said party spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere.

Zimbabwe’s 2,000 junior doctors have twice been on strike over the last 12 months decrying salaries as low as Z$9,450 (US$115) per month. Many are reportedly ready to leave after finding better paying jobs in the region and overseas.

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