Maputo — The doctors' strike, called by the Mozambican Medical Assocation (AMM), entered its second week on Monday, with no sign of a resumption of talks between the AMM and the Health Ministry.
Cited in Monday's issue of the independent newsheet "Mediafax" the chairperson of the AMM, Jorge Arroz, said the association has still received no reply to the letter it sent to Ministry on Wednesday.
In that letter, the AMM said it was "completely open" to discuss doctors' wages, but demanded an end to all "threats and intimidation" against striking doctors, and wanted "an external observer" to attend the talks, suggesting that this could be the country's main trade union federation, the OTM.
Arroz once again said the AMM was fully open to dialogue, but until dialogue and consensus was reached, the doctors would remain on strike.
"What is certain is that the strike is indeed continuing", he said. "It is continuing because when we began the strike, we indicated the points that are constraining our activity. And to date we have no answer to these concerns".
The striking doctors will meet again in Maputo some time on Monday, at a venue that has not yet been announced. According to "Mediafax", this meeting will decide whether the doctors should hold street demonstrations.
In an interview with the Portuguese news agency, Lusa, Arroz said he wanted any future discussions on doctors' wages to be with Prime Minister Alberto Vaquina, "because among the doctors there is total distrust of the Ministry of Health".
The strikers are demanding a wage rise of 100 per cent or more. The AMM wants the basic wage of a newly trained doctor to rise from 15,000 to 38,000 meticais (from 506 to 1,284 US dollars) a month, and the basic wage of a specialist to double from 24,000 to 48,000 meticais a month.
But the Health Ministry says it cannot look at doctors' wages in isolation.
Any wage increase must also take into account the other health professionals, notably nurses.
The Ministry spokesperson Martinho Djedje also said that public sector wages should be negotiated at meetings of the Labour Consultative Council (CCT), which is the negotiating forum between the government, the trade unions and the employers' associations. The CCT normally meets in March and April each year to discuss increasing the statutory minimum wage. Wage increases above the minimum have generally not been discussed at past meetings of the CCT.
The impact of the strike is hard to measure. The strikers have pledged to guarantee all emergency services – so, paradoxically, some doctors who regard themselves as being on strike are coming into work to perform urgent duties.
Non-urgent work is suffering, particularly in Maputo. Some routine appointments and other services regarded as non-essential have been cancelled, and the queues at health units are longer than usual.
The Ministry admits that 70 doctors and about 150 medical students have not reported for work at Maputo Central Hospital. Taking the country as a whole, the Ministry claims that no more than 20 per cent of Mozambican doctors are on strike. The AMM says that about 90 per cent of its members have joined the strike.
Djedje has admitted that the health service is now relying on doctors who are not on strike making extra sacrifices, such as working double shifts.
Meanwhile the Mozambican Association of Nurses has denied a rumour that nurses will go on strike as from Monday. A malicious mobile phone text message spread across Maputo claiming that the nurses would walk out on 14 January. The leadership of the Nurses' Association declared that it had no such plans for a strike.