24 September 2017

Kenya: Nurses Firm on Strike Amid Threats to Send Them Home

Striking nurses and clinicians were Saturday warned against interfering with the smooth running of healthcare services in the country while being ordered to immediately resume duty.

A consultative meeting called on Friday to discuss industrial action by the workers insisted that the strikes were illegal and that those who will not have returned to work be sacked and their positions advertised.

The meeting, chaired by Council of Governors chairman Josephat Nanok, was attended by Health Cabinet Secretary Cleopa Mailu, Principal Secretary Julius Korir, Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) chairperson Sarah Serem and Public Service Commission chairperson Margaret Kobia.

Also present were SRC Chief Executive Anne Gitau, Kisii Governor James Ongwae, his Nyandarua counterpart Francis Kimemia as well as Mr Eliud Mureithi who chairs the County Public Service Boards Human Resources Committee.

RESPECTIVE EMPLOYEES

Mr Nanok, in a statement after the meeting, directed county governments to deal with their respective employees in resolving the disputes.

The Turkana governor revealed that Kenya Health Professionals, including clinical officers, did not have recognition agreements with their respective counties and that the strike was illegal.

"All the health workers Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs) are illegal. If they do not respond to the order and report to work, we have no choice but to advertise their positions," said Mr Nanok.

The meeting also mandated SRC to manage civil servants' expectations by making public job evaluation and grading reports for all cadres, including the health sector.

With all the threats, the nurses have maintained they would not return to work unless the CBA was signed.

117 DAYS

"There is no problem; we are relaxed. Let them fire the threats left, right and centre but we are not going to work until the CBA is signed," said Kenya National Union of Nurses secretary-general Seth Panyako.

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It is now 117 days since the nurses began their strike, having downed their tools on June 5. They are protesting against the breach of a CBA that was to be signed by the government on March 2.

According to the draft CBA, nurses are demanding monthly allowances amounting to Sh25,400 each. They want a Sh15, 400 health risk allowance, a Sh5,000 extraneous allowance and a Sh5,000 responsibility allowance.

They are also pushing for a Sh50, 000 uniform allowance, paid annually for each of the 25,000 unionisable health workers.

SRC maintains the demands by the nurses are unaffordable and should be reviewed.

VOWED

However on Saturday, the nurses vowed to continue with their strike until their CBA is honoured.

Addressing journalists in Nairobi Saturday, Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN) secretary general Seth Panyako said no amount of intimidation will make them change their position.

"We would like to tell our members that the strike is still on course and nothing has changed so far. All our members should continue until we get to an agreement with the Council of Governors," said Mr Panyako.

He criticised the governors for not showing any willingness to end the stalemate.

Mr Panyako's sentiments were also supported by his deputy Maurice Opetu.

ARM-TWIST

Mr Opetu accused the national and county governments of trying to arm-twist nurses to go back to work.

"Ministry of Labour called for a conciliation meeting between the national government, county government and union of nurses on September 19, we presented ourselves before the conciliator but both the county and national government did not turn up only for the strike to be termed illegal," he said.

Mr Panyako also hit out at the latest job evaluation report by the SRC that placed nurses on Band 3.

"We oppose the job evaluation report. It is misguided. We don't know how it was arrived at," he said.

SERVICES HALTED

Meanwhile, services in public hospitals in Migori County have been halted as clinical officers joined nurses in the ongoing nationwide strike.

Patients are forced to seek treatment in private clinics in the county.

However, most of the clinics are grappling with a large number of patients and are constrained with their limited capacities.

"I came here as early as 6 am and up to now (12 pm), I have not been attended to. I don't know what to do," said Ms Mariam Robi Mahemba, a patient at Mother and Child clinic in Kehancha town.

JOINED STRIKE

Mr Chris Onditi, the Migori County Kenya Union of Clinical Officer's chairman, said over 100 of their members have joined the nurses' strike.

"We don't have any issues with the governors and we request SRC to grade us as skilled workers," added Mr Onditi.

Dalmas Oyugi, the Migori County health officer, said they are hoping that the national government would help end the impasse.

"It is unfortunate clinical officers have joined the strike, further worsening the situation. We hope the national government will step in and save patients the agony they are going through," said Mr Oyugi.

Additional reporting by Vivere Nandiemo

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