What a huge relief. Junior Doctors, who had been on strike for a total of 40 days, have agreed to finally report for duty. They are doing so begrudgingly though. The doctors’ negotiations with their employer have been cumbersome to say the least. Conflicting messages marred the talks as meeting after meting failed to come up with a lasting solution. The rift grew wider as mistrust crept into both camps. Gladly, that is all behind us. The junior doctors have indicated that they will revert to doing what they do best.

In a press statement dated 10th January 2019, the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA) says, “ZHDA is delighted to inform the membership, members of the press and public that the industrial action by doctors in Government has come to an end…The MOHCC has committed in writing that it will consistently improve supply of medicines, medical and surgical sundries in public health facilities. It was further agreed that there is going to be unfreezing of posts across Central, Provincial and District Hospitals. We hope these promises will be fulfilled with urgency, as it has been a culture of the Health Services Board to go back on agreements before. We also continue to negotiate on outstanding issues like remuneration and working hours, and we hope to find common ground soon.” One sure thing is that this group of junior doctors does not mince its words. They claim to have been let down before and have made their fears known to the whole world despite choosing to end the strike.

ZHDA also says, “Sadly, with no salary review, and frozen December salaries in this rough and ravaging economic environment, it remains a dilemma how our members will report to work daily…That being said, our members have begrudgingly resumed work with effect from today, as dialogue continues.” There is no salary increase in place and by agreeing to go back to work, the doctors have disproved some who labelled them a greedy lot.

Lessons learnt

As this chapter closes, there are some lessons to be drawn from the doctor’s strike. First, the legality of strikes should be an important consideration going forward. In this case, the doctors’ strike was deemed illegal by the courts because they did not follow proper procedures. Somehow, this weakened their negotiating power. Back at work, they are going to face disciplinary action as a result. Secondly, in this age of the internet boom, it is no longer viable to spread false information. Throughout the strike, we saw government and state-owned media claiming that a solution had been found. On the other hand, the doctors would come with a totally different position, standing their ground that their grievances had not been met. Call it a wrong turn, or a genuine masterstroke, the doctors’ meeting with First Lady Amai Auxillia Mnangagwa helped put everything into perspective. Things became a bit easy-going after that meting, perhaps a sign that the First Lady had pulled some strings behind the scenes.

We only hope that the doctors are back at work to stay and that all outstanding issues will be settled amicably as per agreed timelines. The patients must be happy now.