The Sunday Mail
Debra Matabvu and Emmanuel Kafe
MORE than 4 000 health workers left Zimbabwe since the beginning of last year, but many fell victim to dubious recruiting agencies taking advantage of the aggressive scouting for health workers by rich countries, particularly the UK, The Sunday Mail has established.
However, the Government is currently putting measures to manage the situation.
The exodus of health workers from Zimbabwe and many other developing countries to the United Kingdom, among other countries, is being driven by the increased demand for healthcare workers in developed countries, whose health systems were strained by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Latest statistics from the Health Service Board (HSB) show that over 4 000 healthcare workers resigned from public institutions between January 2021 and November this year.
Of this figure, 2 910 resigned last year alone, while 1 561 left their jobs between January and November this year.
Overall, this includes 1 772 registered nurses (RGN) who resigned last year alone and the 976 who left this year.
However, the number of health workers who resigned from private institutions, which are similarly affected, could not be ascertained by last week.
Health and Child Care Deputy Minister Dr John Mangwiro said the Government was progressively improving working conditions of health workers to deal with the growing challenge.
“Mostly, we are working on improving working conditions. This includes ensuring there are medicines in hospitals and equipment as well. The Government is working on ensuring that the same conditions offered for nurses in other countries are offered locally.”
Zimbabwe’s health workers are highly trained, with many being employees of choice around the world.
But some health workers who are willing to take up jobs abroad, especially as nurse aides, are falling victim to predatory agencies.
Investigations by The Sunday Mail show that nurse aides are paying up to £5 000 each to recruiting agencies to get employed in the United Kingdom.
They are also levied additional costs on their salaries.
Responding to questions by The Sunday Mail, a spokesperson of the British Embassy in Zimbabwe said “the embassy is concerned by reports alleging poor treatment of some Zimbabwean care workers at the hands of private recruitment agencies”.
The embassy urged prospective workers to read through their contracts before signing them.
“Zimbabwean workers using the services of a private recruitment agency to secure employment in the UK should check their contracts fully before signing. If a worker feels they are a victim of illegal activity, they should report to the relevant authorities,” she said.
Local health institutions offering three-month nurse-aid training courses are also charging between US$300 and US$350.
The Government is currently in the process of creating migrant resource centres (MRCs) that will help equip Zimbabweans with critical information on issues relating to safe formal labour migration.
Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister Professor Paul Mavima said the resource centres will serve as information dissemination hubs on the rights of migrants.
“The facilities will also help by equipping returnees with the information upon their return, among many other essential services about migrants,” he said, adding that the move was in line with the Labour Migration Policy signed by President Mnangagwa in 2019 and the National Development Strategy (NDS1).
A UK-based nurse aid shared with this publication how she was fleeced by a recruiting agency that helped her get a job in England.
When she applied for the job, she was promised at least £12,50 per hour but she received £8, as a recruiting agency (name supplied) that facilitated her work permit and visa netted the difference.
She was not informed of this arrangement beforehand.
She had only paid a recruitment fee of nearly £5 000.
“These middlemen are mostly Zimbabweans living in the UK. They don’t explain in full when applying through them how much they will deduct from your salary. I no longer have much of an option but to work until the five-year contract expires,” she revealed.
Some private agencies, victims say, even withhold passports and other critical documents until payment is made.
Care workers’ visas are linked to their employers, which make them reluctant to report such cases for fear of being deported.
The Sunday Mail approached one of the recruitment agencies.
In a WhatsApp conversation, the recruitment agency said its fees for nurse aides who would want to work in care homes and get paid £13 per hour would be about £5 000.
“This includes a ‘placement package’, including a certificate of sponsorship and visa application support. You need to send your IELTS (International English Language Testing System), police clearance, tuberculosis test and driver’s licence as soon as possible, as applications for this year are about to close,” a representative of the agency said.