Nairobi — Striking nurses have gone back to court seeking a review of a ruling given by Industrial Court Judge Maureen Onyango on Friday declaring their strike illegal.
Onyango ordered the nurses to go back to work as the court deliberates their petition on the registration of the Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN) considering they are essential service providers.
National Nurses Association of Kenya (NNK) Chairman, Jeremiah Maina, contended that proper legal procedure had not been followed in overturning of an earlier ruling given by Judge David Marete.
"We are still going back to the Industrial Court. There are still several steps to go to get to the Supreme Court so we are not done with the justice system."
Marete had on December 28 ruled that nurses have a right to strike and to form a union calling for dialogue between them, the Ministries of Labour, Medical Services and Public Health.
Maina said the ministries snubbed the order and that only the Public Service Commission had engaged them despite numerous attempts to reach the relevant Permanent Secretaries.
"The Ministry of Labour called us for a meeting just to tell us 'let us meet in court tomorrow.' We had served the Ministry of Public Health, the Ministry of Medical Services... they never took the initiative to even call."
Onyango said the orders issued by Marete could not stand as the ministries concerned had not been given sufficient time to respond to the suit filed by the striking nurses.
"The basis of the orders on Friday is that the parties were not given a chance to be heard and we were not given a chance to be heard either because when we went on Friday we were going for a mention." Maina explained.
The NNK chairman said they went to court on Friday expecting to give an update on the consultations Marete had called for: "You cannot go for a mention then a judge turns it to be a hearing and a judgment."
Maina vowed the strike called by the KNUN and NNK on December 3 will not end until their demands are met: "It took 20 years to get a new Constitution; we've only done 34 days."
"We never went on strike to go to court. We went on strike to have our issues addressed. It's unfortunate that nobody will listen to us other than the court."
The striking workers want KNUN registered, nurses on contract hired on a permanent and pensionable basis, their allowances increased and the hiring of a larger pool of nurses.
"One nurse to a hundred patients is not nursing. That is called witchcraft," Maina said emphasising the need for more nurses.
Maina ruled out the possibility of their going back to work while their grievances are addressed.
"It's better you stay out; when you are going back there, you know you have gone back to work. You are not postponing a strike so that you are in a strike mode throughout. You have to do things once and for all."
The manner in which their strike was declared illegal, Maina added, was inconsistent with set practice.
"Once you give a strike notice that is when the Minister or the AG [Attorney General] is supposed to move to court and say if you go to strike it is illegal."
"But you don't wait for people to strike for 30 days then you wake up and say... excuse me, your strike is illegal."
The ruling issued on Friday did not go down well with nurses in Kisumu where more than a hundred of them blocked traffic on Oginga Odinga Street while carrying out demonstrations Monday.
Nyanza Provincial General Hospital, Kakamega Provincial General Hospital, Kajiado District Hospital, Mombasa Provincial General Hospital and Machakos General Hospital have been the hardest hit but nurses at Kenyatta National Hospital refused to join the industrial action after the referral hospital's management promised to increase their allowances and put in motion promotions long overdue.
Maina classified the withholding of their December pay and Medical Services Minister Anyang' Nyong'o's move to replace the striking workers as intimidation tactics and said it would not result in their return to work.
"Nurses are not cabbages and if there were cabbages he could have gotten more of them. He has put up advertisements twice. Why didn't he get nurses? We are a scarce resource in this country so we must protect what we have."
"Alternatively, they are going to run away because there is a shortage of nurses around the globe. We can work anywhere. Our mothers, our fathers, our sisters and brothers require us in this country."
The nurses strike, Maina said, would not be the end of the government's healthcare woes if it did not take immediate action to bring an end to the industrial action.
"Tomorrow Kenyans are going to go to court because of Article 43. It is an obligation of government to provide quality healthcare. We are advising the government to put their house in order before Kenyans wake up and take them to court."