18 June 2017

Kenyans Suffer As Nurses' Union Addresses Infighting

Photo: Dennis Onsongo/The Nation
Members of two factions of the Kenya National Union of Nurses disagree over the nurses' strike at a press briefing held at Kenya Railway Golf Club in Nairobi on June 16, 2017.

Patients should brace for tougher days this week as nurses are digging in with their 14-day strike.

Kenyans are hoping that the division in the health workers' union will wane to allow for negotiations to solve the pay stalemate.

The sharp differences in the two factions within the Kenya National Union of Nurses (Knun) means that the more than 26,000 nurses who provide essential health services will stay out of wards, much to the pain and despair of ailing Kenyans.

INFIGHTING

Nurses at the Kenyatta National Hospital and Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, who are not part of the industrial action, are spread thin as they are having to deal with large numbers of patients.

The inconsistencies in Knun played out last Friday at a press conference called by the embattled chair John Bii, which was violently disrupted by a team led by Secretary-General Seth Panyako.

Mr Panyako's side accused the rival group led by Mr Bii of being used by some individuals in the national and county governments to undermine the union's activities.

UNLAWFUL STRIKE

Mr Panyako said the strike is legal as it is a continuation of the December 2016 "suspended strike" after the nurses signed return-to-work agreements with the national government and the Council of Governors (CoG).

It was agreed during the signing meeting on December 14, 2016 that the nurses would liaise with the national and 47 county governments to finalise on a collective bargaining agreement in 60 days, that is on/or before March 2, 2017.

Mr Bii, on the other hand, maintained that the strike is unprotected as there was no strike notice as is expected of an industrial action.

"The strike was called on June 5, 2017 without the input of the National Governing Council, which comprises three members from each county, over 156 members or so. Therefore, the strike became an illegality," he said last Friday.

NEGOTIATIONS TEAM

At the earlier press conference, he was to ostensibly state an end to the strike and to inform his fellow nurses that he had been in talks with representatives from the Ministry of Health.

Part of the talks was that there would be the creation of a negotiation committee that would meet on Tuesday in Nairobi.

Mr Bii argued that the nurses do not have a CBA as claimed by Mr Panyako's side.

Instead, Mr Bii said the nurses have a "proposed agreed draft of the CBA" between the county governments and Knun, which is not signed and has since been thrown out by Salaries and Remuneration Commission as it is unsustainable.

NURSES TRICKED

Even then, CoG may have hoodwinked nurses into suspending their strike last year in December and believing they would reach an agreement.

This is despite the county governments not showing proof of funds to pay the promised allowances, letters between CoG and the SRC seen by Nation show.

The agreement on December 14, 2016 saw the nurses' union, CoG, and Ministry of Health sign a return-to-work formula that included a new Sh20,000 nursing allowance with effect from January 2017.

PAY DISPARITIES

This allowance was paid in January only, the nurses say.

After this, the nurses would sign recognition agreements with the counties, which was done.

Then in 60 days -- on/or before March 2, 2017 -- a CBA would be in place.

The agreement addressed the pay disparities between nurses working in counties, national government and in the ministry.

LEADERS DISAPPOINTED

Now, the nurses' leadership say they have nothing to show for the eight day-long meetings they held with CoG, county public service boards and the ministry's representatives since January 2017.

Knun acting chair Joseph Ngwasi told Nation on phone: "We have been taken for a ride. We don't understand how they are saying that the figures are mind-boggling, yet we didn't have an issue throughout the negotiations."

He added: "At times, we postponed the meetings because the county governments said they needed to consult with the SRC. Now we don't know what is happening."

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