THE Zambia Medical Association has warned of massive disruption of services should their members withdraw labour based on the directive by the Ministry of Health to stop them from engaging in extra economic activity.
And ZMA says Zambian doctors have sacrificed a lot, given up so many of their rights as workers for the sake of saving the public.
Meanwhile, the Zambia Union of Nurses Organisation (ZUNO) says health workers engaged in private work utilise their free time.
ZMA secretary general Dr Francis Mupeta stated that the association had learnt with disbelief the circular from the Permanent Secretary – Administration of the Ministry of Health directing provincial and district directors and hospital superintendents to stop medical personnel from being engaged in extra economic activity such as private practice in private and public institutions.
“Our position on the issue still remains the same as that given in 2015 that, ‘there is no law that forbids citizens to have duo practice in public and private. However, we take great exception to members who do not fulfill their man hours in either public or private institutions and thus create the conflict and loss of trust in the accountability framework’,” Dr Mupeta stated.
He condemned the directive as ill- intended as it disregards what obtains in practice.
“The statement, first of all, is ambiguous and misleading and we doubt that the technocrats advising the Permanent Secretary mean well. It is ambiguous in that it does not specify whether this includes work or employment done outside government man hours. The association is fully aware of the public service terms and condition of service. Section No. 86 cited in the directive, pertains to an officer who holds dual employment. For example, while employed in the civil service, an officer accepts another employment on full time basis from either another government ministry/ agency or draws two salaries while performing dual functionalities in the same or line ministry,” Dr Mupeta stated.
“As stated in the 2015 position above, the association does not condone workers who abscond from work either in government or private institutions to work elsewhere. In our view, Section No. 86 cited in the directive implies as we have stated above and it shall continue to be until such a time as it shall be amended.”
He assured health workers and members of the public equally that no law would be broken by any member of the association or the medical fraternity in general who wished to engage in meaningful economic activity if they so wished outside their government contractual hours.
Dr Mupeta stated that if it was the intention of the permanent secretary to forbid doctors or other cadres from engaging in private practice at their own time, whilst serving in government, then the permanent secretary had misled himself.
He stated that the permanent secretary was on record to have defended the sector on parliament grounds while appearing before the Parliamentary committee on Parastatals two months ago.
“If this is not misleading the sector then the office misled Honourable members of parliament on record,” Dr Mupeta stated.
He reminded the government that Zambian doctors had sacrificed a lot, given up so many of their rights as workers for the sake of saving the public.
“Some of the sacrifices we have endured are as follows; 1. About 138 doctors employed last year have gone seven months without pay! A sad situation which is equivalent to casualisation of the medical profession, we gave not raise a finger against this injustice. 2. Doctors went for five straight years without a pay raise until this year when they received a nominal rise that is not even worth talking about. 3. Resident doctors are currently being under paid their fuel allowance for the past five years and have continued to live on the promissory note of the ‘issue being rectified’. 4. Specialist doctors are being deployed to all provincial hospitals without a corresponding match in their pay. This too is tantamount to abuse of employees. 5. Doctors in the public sector work with limited resource and have gone without complaining. Six. Licensure fees hiked to unthinkable amounts without any regard for what doctors get paid,” Dr Mupeta stated.
He stated the government has no jurisdiction to what an employee did outside their working hours.
Dr Mupeta stated that while they appreciate that medical doctors are on duty all the time, in case of an emergency, the government has no right to abuse these overworked and underpaid workers.
He stated that the permanent secretary should be reminded that President Edgar Lungu instructed senior civil servants to engage in meaningful economic activities such as farming.
“This gesture was followed by extension of cheap loans through the Public Microfinance company. The ministry should tell us whether they have disregarded this policy direction from the Head of State. The association recognizes that farming is not the only economic activity medical doctors can and should engage in. The Ministry should also realise that senior doctors play a critical role to raise critical revenue for the public institution through high cost services, consultancy services and research. We need to remind government that should our members withdraw labour based on this directive, there will be massive disruption of service as most hospitals will lose out of the critical funds realised from High Cost, consultancy and research,” stated Dr Mupeta.
Meanwhile, the Zambia Union of Nurses Organisation said nurses and midwives do not use government man hours to do other jobs but rather use their free time and are not in any conflict with existing terms and conditions of service for public service employees.
ZUNO general secretary Fray Michelo stated that the union was very much aware of the provision in terms and conditions of service for public service workers but did not agree with the directive as it does not relate to any regulation that prohibits any health care provider, be it nurse or midwife to engage in any meaningful economical empowerment activities whilst in leave from the public service.
“ In trying to make ends meet in the face of economic hardships, it can be pointless for one to sit home whilst on leave or off government hours instead of trying to make extra income to sustain themselves with the family,” Michelo stated.
He stated that it was not a secret that one cannot depend on a meager salary which was further cut each time due to introduction of more taxes, removal or some duty facilitating allowances, increase in food products, increased electricity and fuel tariffs and rentals.
“We would also like the permanent secretary to confirm if he misled parliament when he appeared before the parliamentary committee where he mentioned that health personnel employed at public health institutions are allowed to work for private institutions so long they do that in their free time as the circular is in conflict with what he presented to Parliament. We further would like to state that such directives end up frustrating and demotivating nurses and midwives leading to poor output, consequently compromising service delivery that in the end affects achievement of set development goals,” Michelo stated.
He urged the ministry, through the permanent secretary’s office, to engage in stakeholder consultative dialogue before issuing such directives.
Michelo further urged the permanent secretary to withdraw or restate the circular in question in order to promote industrial harmony and prevent unrests.