10 December 2013

Kenya: The Strike Is On, Health Workers Declare

Photo: Sabahi
Health workers go on strike over devolution of services (file photo).

Nairobi — Unions representing health workers have maintained that they will not call off their strike until the government heeds their demands. The unions' officials however say they are ready to continue with negotiations with the government in a bid to resolve the contentious issues on devolving health services.

Operations at most public hospitals remained paralysed on Tuesday countrywide, after health workers downed tools to protest devolution of their pay to counties. The Kenya National Union of Nurses Secretary General Seth Panyako said all heath workers would remain on strike until the outstanding issues were resolved.

"We are not asking anything out of the extraordinary. What we are asking is within the law," he stated. He added: "We are asking that our personnel emoluments to remain under the National Government."

The Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union Secretary General Sultani Matendechero however, said staff at the Kenyatta National Hospital, were not participating in the mass action.

"The national hospitals will continue running because there is nothing we are complaining about there. However, the problem that we are starting to see is that our people in the national hospitals have started complaining. As we speak there is a meeting at the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital. The people there are saying that they want to down their tools because the workload is becoming too much," he stated.

Institutions affected included the Coast Provincial General Hospital, Embu Provincial General Hospital as well as other hospitals upcountry where nurses, doctors and clinical officers kept away from work. The officers who effectively downed their tools at midnight Monday want their wages to be channelled through the national government and not the counties.

They are also unhappy with the manner in which the Transition Authority and the Governors' Council are handling devolution of health services. They maintained that the process of devolving health was inconsistent with the Constitution because no legislation has been established yet to oversee the process.

"Devolution of health services should be anchored on the enactment of a health policy, as provided in the constitution," Panyako stated. He appealed to the members of the public, "to challenge their leaders to ensure that health services to the public, resume as soon as possible."

The Central Organization of Trade Unions has also backed the health workers demands to remain under the National Government. COTU's Secretary General Francis Atwoli said until a legal framework was put in place, health activities should not be devolved.

"How do you take a doctor to work under Oparanya - he is my Governor - without a legal reference in regards his or her terms conditions of work?" he posed.

"It is a wish to the Head of State and his deputy to suspend devolving heath services until a legal framework is put in place."

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