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Labour unionists and civil society organistions in Zimbabwe have expressed outrage over the dismissal of the president of the Zimbabwe Professional Nurses Union (ZPNU), Robert Emmanuel Chiduku, for conducting his duties as a trade union leader.

Chiduku was summarily dismissed through the Health Services Board (HSB) after he led a nurses’ strike to demand a living wage, better tools of trade and a functional health system. The HSB, a statutory body which fixes the conditions of service for its members, charged Chiduku with conducting union business during working hours.

A letter dated 15 August, 2022, signed by the director of human resources and administration, Stewart Jailos, acting as the ‘disciplinary authority’ of the health ministry, said Chiduku had been facing a single charge with three particulars but had been found guilty on only one contravention of the National Employment Code of Conduct, of “conducting your union business during business hours which you did within the premises of your employer without his consent”.

Jailos wrote that Chiduku’s conduct was a serious breach of his employment contract and warranted a dismissal: “I also took into account that your improper conduct undermines the business of your employer as he is the national provider of healthcare to the citizenry. The nature of the violation, which to me clearly goes to the root of your employment contract, demonstrates incredible disrespect to the sanctity of your workplace and the critical business thereof… On the basis of the disciplinary hearing held, I have no option but to order a summary dismissal.”

Chiduku was advised to appeal within seven days if he so wishes.

At least 200 nurses across the country are also facing disciplinary action and risk being dismissed for engaging in the nationwide strike. “Post incapacitation, fellow nurses have been summoned for disciplinary hearing across Zimbabwe. The heavy and unrepentant arm of government continued its heavy onslaught on all nurses who joined the strike… We take this opportunity as the Zimbabwe Professional Nurses Union to remind the government that any machinations, persecution by prosecution of nurses and ZPNU leadership will not address the deep seated challenges our fellow nurses are facing countrywide,” said Douglas Chikobvu, the union’s secretary general.

He said the only solution was for the government to simply pay nurses a living wage, adding that Chiduku should be reinstated unconditionally. “Failure to do so can cause unnecessary, direct confrontation and escalation with nurses countrywide staging solidarity stay-aways or go slows,” he said.

At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Elitsha reported that nurses in Zimbabwe were on strike to demand the payment of their salaries in U.S. dollars and the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) secretary general, Japhet Moyo said the dismissal of Chiduku was a continuation of an onslaught against trade union leaders. He said they had brought their concerns to the attention of the government but there has been no let up. “This victimisation of trade unions is happening against the standing regulations and international labour standards conventions that allow workers to belong to unions and participate in the activities of the same organisations.

“It appears the victimisation is meant to discourage workers from taking leadership positions within their organisation at the same time destroying the collective voice of workers,” Moyo said. He added that it was unfortunate that when such issues were raised with the supervisory bodies of the ILO, the government has accused the ZCTU of being unpatriotic.

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition chairperson, Peter Mutasa, who is also the immediate past president of the ZCTU, said the so-called second republic of President Emmerson Mnangagwa is extremely bad for workers and a danger to trade unions. “In a short space of time it has dismissed, abducted, tortured and jailed many trade unionists. Workers must unite and fight back against this dictatorship. Mugabe was bad but this regime is worse,” he said.

The Zimbabwe Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions (ZPCSTU), an umbrella body representing government workers, said the dismissal of Chiduku was vindictive and a breach of ILO conventions 87 and 98, on the right to organise and collective bargaining, and freedom of association. Zimbabwe has ratified these ILO conventions.

In a statement, ZPCSTU said the dismissal was also in breach of Section 65 of the Zimbabwean constitution. “We were alarmed as the Health Services Board chose to throw the rule book through the window and proceed to punish the union leader for exercising his cardinal right to organise his constituency in a clear case of union bashing which seems to have become a norm in our land,” reads the statement.

A health ministry official said the issue was being looked into, without giving further details.

Trade unions in Zimbabwe have been under siege in Zimbabwe and just recently, the president and secretary general of the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ), Obert Masaraure and Robson Chere respectively, were detained on trumped up murder charges for a case that had long before been closed.

Masaraure also faces another charge of inciting violence. The militant trade unionist, who is out on bail, believes that he is being persecuted for representing teachers in Zimbabwe, who have been fighting for a return to the pre-2019 USD salary of $540 per month and better working conditions.