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Health workers who strike could face jail, under new law

President Emmerson Mnangagwa has signed the Health Services Amendment Bill into law, which prohibits government health workers from going on strikes that lasts longer than three days and mandates that they continue to provide emergency services even while on strike.

Health employees now have their own independent panel, the Health Services Commission, to define their terms of employment under the new law that the President signed last week, upgrading the previous Health Services Board to a full commission.

According to the new Act, the commission will be made up of a chairperson who must be the chairperson of the Public Service Commission, a deputy chairperson who will be appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Minister of Health and Child Care, and a minimum of two and a maximum of five additional members who will also be appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Minister of Health.

The new Act’s Section 16A, which states that health services must be regarded as an essential service as specified by the Constitution, has restrictions on the right to strike for health employees.

“Notwithstanding anything in the Labour Act, the Health Service shall be deemed as an essential service referred to in section 65(3) of the Constitution. 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 notice of any collective job action must be given in writing 48 hours prior to the commencement of such collective job action,” reads the Act.

Anyone who organizes collective job action in defiance of the new rules is subject to criminal prosecution and, if convicted, may face fines of up to level 4 or imprisonment for six months.