Nairobi — Patients in public hospitals will continue to bear the brunt of an ongoing strike by nurses after the health workers vowed to go on with the industrial action until the government registers their union.
Leaders of the unregistered Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN) and the National Nurses Association of Kenya (NNAK) said they not return to work, despite sack threats by Medical Services Minister Anyang' Nyong'o.
KNUN Secretary General Seth Panyako blamed Nyong'o for allegedly being the stumbling block to the registration of the union and challenged him to go to court if he felt the strike was illegal.
"We started the registration of this union on November 8, 2011 when we got our first interim certificate of registration. It's our constitutional right and we are not going to negotiate about this. And, we would want to inform the minister that it is only the courts in this country that can declare this strike illegal," he said.
In a statement on Saturday, Nyong'o said his ministry other relevant ministries and government departments, "will start recruiting new nurses on Tuesday December 18 to replace the current striking nurses who will not have reported to work by 1pm on Monday December 17."
"All Provincial Directors of Medical Services are directed to commence registration of unemployed and retired nurses willing to take up positions left behind by the abscondees... Kenyan nurses in foreign countries willing to come back and serve will be required to register online through the ministry's website," Nyong'o stated.
But NNAK Secretary General Jeremiah Maina said they have now taken up the matter with office of the Prime Minister and that negotiations will kick off on Monday.
"It is unfortunate that the minister is insurbodinating his supervisor. He should and will have to respect the prime minister who has engaged us and will have to wait for what that office says," Maina said.
Nurses at the Kenyatta National Hospital, Moi Teaching and Referral in Eldoret and Kisii level 5 have not joined the strike which is going to the third week now.
This is because most of the nurses in the three hospitals are members of the Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotels, Educational Institutions, Hospitals and Allied Workers (KUDHEIHA), and the Union of Kenya Civil Servants (UKCS) and have remained opposed to the strike.
They industrial action comes at a time when the political mood is getting intense with only three months remaining to the General Elections.
But the two nurses' bodies say they are ready to fight to the end, even to the next government if the current one does not address their grievances.
"We want to give notice to all presidential candidates to give their stand on this issue. They are just politicking while poor Kenyans are dying in our public hospitals. How can you say you want to be the president of this country, with over 95 percent of our public hospitals not functioning?" wondered Panyako.
The striking nurses argue that they have been unable to properly air their needs to the government due to lack of a registered single nurses' trade union.
All eyes will now be on the Medical Services Minister to see if he will indeed replace the nurses or if they will go back to work and serve Kenyans to save their jobs.
The strike started on November 25.