FINANCE and Economic Development Minister Professor Mthuli Ncube yesterday said Government had done all it could for now to address the grievances of striking junior doctors as he appealed to them to return to work for the sake of patients. Minister Ncube said Government would continue the engagement process through the bipartite negotiating forum.
Addressing a Press conference in Harare, Prof Ncube said Government valued the work of junior doctors and other health workers.
"We value our junior doctors and all our health workers and of course we sympathise with their plight like we do with the plight of every Zimbabwean in this transitional situation," said Minister Ncube.
"Government has done a lot in meeting the demands of the junior doctors -- fuel for transportation purposes, vehicle loans and other such demands that they placed upon us and we responded. We feel that we are really doing our part in responding to their demands," he said.
Prof Ncube said the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development had put in place a facility for the procurement of drugs through the National Pharmaceutical Company (Natpharm).
The junior doctors have, among other grievances, cited drug shortages at Government hospitals as a major reason for the strike.
"We have got a good supply of drugs coming through and this again has been communicated to the junior doctors," said Prof Ncube.
Government also promised to prioritise the doctors when it comes to fuel allocation. The country is currently experiencing shortages of the commodity. The Government further pledged to release the remaining $6 million for vehicle loans.
It has so far released $4 million.
"I think it would be unfair for them to continue staying out there. People are dying in hospitals and I think that it is important that ethics are put before everything else," said Prof Ncube in his appeal to the doctors.
"They should go back to work while we do our part to meet their demands. They are valued employees of this country and the health sector," he said.
He however said Government was unable to pay the doctors in foreign currency as per their request.
"Our job, through the central bank, is to allocate the little foreign currency that we earn to critical sectors. It is an allocation process and we are determined to make that process more efficient and we can prioritise but there is no question of salaries in hard currency. That cannot happen," said Prof Ncube.
He said Government does not earn foreign currency.
"We are currently paying in RTGS and I would like to urge them to accept that. That is the mode of payment. We are unable to pay them in foreign currency. We do not earn foreign currency as a Government," said Prof Ncube.
He refused to be drawn into promising a pay rise.
"There are structures through which they are engaging their line Ministry, that is the Ministry of Health. I would urge them to continue engaging through those structures and once there is a position, obviously with us as Treasury being involved. These things have budgetary implications. We will then take any proposals or any issues raised forward but I cannot respond to that specifically in this platform. It is wrong to do so," he said.
Junior doctors went on strike at the beginning of the month demanding a review of their conditions of service.
Meanwhile, Government said it had also reversed deductions on junior doctors' December salaries. It attributed the deductions to a systems error.
"According to paymaster, Salary Service Bureau, this was due to PAYE final deduction system, which reconciles the payroll and ensures that correct tax is collected per employee by end of year," said the Acting Secretary for Health and Child Care, Dr Robert Mudyiradima.
"At the end of year, the system makes final adjustments to PAYE calculations taking into account the total income, deductions and credits to which the employee is entitled," he said.
"The deductions have since been reversed and the monies will be credited into the affected members' accounts."
The doctors said the deductions had undermined the spirit of negotiations.
"Even those who were not on strike have joined us, including our seniors, owing to the latest development," said Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association Secretary General, Dr Mthabisi Bhebhe.