HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe said it had sacked 16,000 striking nurses, as the new government sought to keep a lid on labour unrest in the build-up to the first elections since the fall of Robert Mugabe.
Vice President Constantino Chiwenga accused the nurses of staging a “politically motivated” walkout and said they would be replaced by retired and unemployed staff. The nurses’ union told its members to stay calm as it considered its response.
The nurses went on strike on Monday over unpaid allowances and other issues, leaving hospitals understaffed. The action came days after junior doctors wrapped up a month-long walkout over pay and working conditions.
Chiwenga, the retired army general who led a de facto military coup against Mugabe in November, said the Zimbabwe Nurses Association had rejected a $17 million offer to clear wage arrears.
“Government now regards this lack of remorse as politically motivated, and thus going beyond concerns of conditions of services and worker welfare,” said Chiwenga late on Tuesday.
“Accordingly, government has decided, in the interest of patients and of saving lives, to discharge all the striking nurses with immediate effect.”
He did not say which political group he thought was behind the strike. Mugabe regularly accused opposition groups of trying to undermine his government by encouraging the public sector strikes that punctuated his time in office.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who replaced Mugabe in November, will stand in elections set for July against a revitalised opposition Movement for Democratic Change party led by 40-year-old Nelson Chamisa.
Mnangagwa has promised to revitalise the economy after decades of severe mismanagement. Cash shortages mean banks are forced to limit withdrawals, unemployment remains above 80 percent and the government still struggles to pay workers on time.
Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Andrew Heavens