HARARE - Nurses in Zimbabwe went on strike on Monday to press the government to pay them allowances and to protest a flawed system for grading salaries, a nurses union said.
The strike left public hospitals understaffed and follows a month-long walkout by junior doctors that ended on April 2.
The strike poses a problem for President Emmerson Mnangagwa who wants to revive a sluggish economy ahead of elections set for July in which he faces a revitalized opposition Movement for Democratic Change party led by 40-year-old Nelson Chamisa.
The Zimbabwe Nurses Association (ZNA), which has more than 16,000 members, said government negotiators had on Sunday tried to avert the strike by promising to pay arrears but nurses resolved to go on strike.
"They have been making promises for a long time and the nurses resolved to only go back to work when their money is in their accounts," Enoch Dongo, the ZNA secretary general said.
At Harare Hospital, the second biggest in the country, there were few nurses on duty and non-critical patients were turned away, a Reuters witness said.
Mpilo Hospital in Bulawayo closed its outpatient department and only tended to emergency cases, according to an official memo to staff. Its maternity wards were the most affected, a doctor at the hospital said.
The lowest paid nurse in Zimbabwe earns a gross monthly salary of $284 before allowances, according to Dongo.
The nurses want to be paid other allowances they say were promised by the government in 2010 but never honoured. A majority of nurses were placed in lower grades making it harder for them to receive higher pay, he said.
Zimbabwe spends more than 90 percent of its annual budget on salaries and Mnangagwa's government is seeking to curb the wage bill by a freeze on new hiring and cuts to the workforce.
Health Minister David Parirenyatwa said he could not immediately comment on the strike.