Nairobi — Top government officials and public health workers' union bosses held a crisis meeting on Saturday afternoon in a bid to end the strike that has resulted in the closure of various public health facilities.
The meeting was called by Health Cabinet Secretary James Macharia who told Capital FM News that although he was no longer responsible for the health workers, he was keen to end the strike that started on Tuesday.
"Ever since the gazettement of devolution of public health services to the counties they are no longer my employees, but I have a moral obligation to negotiate an end to the strike because not every Kenyan can afford to go to privately run facilities," he said.
The Secretary General of the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) Sultani Matendechero however, maintained that they will only call off the strike once a return to work formulae is reached.
"Kenyans are dying and yet the governors they elected into office are more concerned with holding on to power they are less concerned with the welfare of their constituents," Matendechero said, accusing the governors of failing to address the matter that degenerated into a crisis Friday when some public hospitals closed down and sent away patients, some too sick to even walk.
At the Mama Lucy Hospital, the third referral hospital in the country, after Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret, gates were closed and guards instructed to turn away patients and any other person seeking to gain entry to the hospital located in the outskirts of the capital Nairobi.
The situation was the same at the Mbagathi district hospital which remained closed since Friday, forcing relatives to take their patients to the nearby top referral hospital-Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH).
But even with the crisis worsening, union officials representing the health workers insisted they want the devolution of public health workers' pay suspended until a Health Act governing the devolution process is put in place, guaranteeing their terms of service.
"We've had reports of Governors threatening to slash the public health workers' pay by up to 40 percent. We cannot continue to operate under jungle law, there has to be a pay and emolument structure in place," Matendechero reiterated.
The Council of Governors in turn accused the KMPDU, the Kenya Union of Nurses and the Kenya Health Professional Union of being unreasonable in their demands.
In a statement co-signed by Macharia, his Devolution counterpart Ann Waiguru and the Public Service Commission on Tuesday, they said only the National Assembly could legislate and pass the Act the unions are demanding.
The unions have so far defied a court order to return to work, pending a hearing a case filed by the government on the legality of their strike scheduled to come up on Monday, despite Macharia publishing the order in all major local dailies on Saturday.
"Only the union can call of a strike and the publishing of the court order in the local dailies was only intended to confuse our members," Matendechero argued.
The Central Organisation of Trade Unions (COTU) has also come to the defence of the public health workers' strike and threatened to report the Kenyan government to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) should they fail to "immediately" resolve the impasse with health workers.
"Failure by government to immediately resolve the impasse will force COTU as a member of the International Labour Organisations (ILO) Governing Body to formally write to the ILO as a United Nations (UN) Agency and Kenya will be a subject of Sanctions as a country that is notorious in applying unfair Labour Practices," COTU Secretary General Francis Atwoli threatened in a press release on Saturday.
In spite of all this, Macharia remains optimistic that operations in all public health facilities will return to normal soon, "there is something that we want to propose to them and hopefully services will resume."