Zimbabwe healthcare workers temporarily call off wage strike

FILE PHOTO: Zimbabwean medical workers sit outside Sally Mugabe Hospital during a strike by state doctors and nurses to press for higher pay, in Harare, Zimbabwe, June 20, 2022. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo/File Photo

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwean healthcare workers halted a five-day-old pay strike and returned to work on Saturday, but union leaders warned they would resume the walkout if the government failed to make an improved wage offer within two weeks.

Thousands of nurses and doctors at state-run hospitals in the southern African country are demanding a hefty raise and wages in U.S. dollars due to a slide in the local currency and brisk inflation that has eroded the value of their earnings.

They went on strike on Monday after rejecting a government offer to double their local currency wages, saying the 100% hike would not even compensate for annual inflation that jumped to 131.7% in May.

"The leaders of the Health Associations ... have resolved to temporarily adjourn the industrial action and request the healthcare workers to resume service," union leaders said in a letter sent to government's Health Service Board on Friday.

They warned that they would "have no option left but to withdraw service without notice" if the government did not offer "meaningful" salary hikes within the next 14 days.

Under Zimbabwean labour law, essential workers have to seek permission to strike, but the union leaders say they would not need to do so if they decided to resume this week's walkout.

Most of the country's nurses earn 20,000 Zimbabwe dollars ($53) a month, according to the Zimbabwe Nurses' Association.

They are demanding monthly pay of $540, which is equivalent to what they received in 2018 before the local currency slumped.

($1 = 378.0000 Zimbabwe dollars)

(Reporting by Nyasha Chingono; Editing by Helen Popper)

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