14 February 2019

Kenya: Nurses Remain Defiant Despite Kenyatta's Order

Photo: Dennis Onsongo/Nairobi News
Nurses under the Health ministry during a protest at Uhuru Park in Nairobi on February 11, 2019, when they announced that they had joined the nationwide strike.

Nurses have vowed to defy orders by President Uhuru Kenyatta instructing them to report back to work by Friday, saying that the strike is constitutional and properly protected.

Kenya National Union of Nurses (Knun) secretary-general Seth Panyako, addressing the media immediately after President Kenyatta's speech, said the strike was still on and that nothing had changed.

According to Mr Panyako, he did not call for the boycott, but Knun branch officials in the counties did and are the ones who can call off the strike.

"If today they advise me to call off the strike following the directive from our President, I will do that very diligently. This is not a national strike, but we are dealing with individual counties.

"I am still waiting for direction from branch officials, but as it stands, the strike is on until we are paid what is rightfully ours," he said.

DISMISSAL

In a press statement by the President on the nurses' strike, he ordered that the health workers resume duty with immediate effect and not later than Friday 8am, failing which they would be dismissed by the county governments and the Ministry of Health.

Responding to this, the Knun official said the sacking directive should come from the Public Service Board to the union since they are the employers, and that orders from any other corner are a political statement geared towards sabotaging health.

"We respect the President of this nation and the government. We respect the law but the law must be applied rationally and equitably," he said.

"As the Commander-in-Chief of the Kenya Defence Forces, I have instructed the National Police Service to take stern action against those picketers who may intimidate or otherwise harass public servants who intend to go to work," the statement reads.

HOOLIGANISM

He said the nurses are law-abiding citizens and they would not engage any Kenyan in any hooliganism.

"We are not planning to go against the law and the police should not use force on our people," he said.

The President instructed that should the nurses fail to report to work on that Friday, then the respective county governments would be at liberty to undertake any action they deem appropriate against the personnel.

"Fellow Kenyans, this morning I held a meeting with the leadership of the Ministry of Health and the Council of Governors to discuss the important issue of the provision of health services in our country. As the National and County Governments, we have a cardinal responsibility to provide adequate and accessible health care to all Kenyans.

"It is greatly disheartening to learn that some of our nurses have decided to engage in an unlawful withdrawal of their labour against the determination of the Employment and Labour Relations Court, which suspended any industrial action for 60 days pending conciliation meetings between county governments, Ministry of Health and the nurses' union.

"Moreover, it is disheartening to hear officials of the nurses' union declare that they will not obey these court orders," the statement reads.

APPROVE CBA

He continued: "In conclusion, fellow Kenyans, we have a clear development agenda. And as an investment destination and a Government that seeks to provide services to her people, we cannot allow unlawful industrial actions to derail us from our focus of taking Kenya forward."

The union accused the Labour Ministry of frustrating the implementation of the agreement reached by nurses and county governments.

Mr Panyako said devolved units "are playing with the nurses minds by failing to honour the agreement the parties in dispute signed on November 2, 2017".

The nurses are demanding uniform and nursing service allowances.

Nurses earn Sh20,000 every month in service allowance, which was to be increased to Sh30,000 over three years from 2017. The uniform allowance was raised to Sh10,000.

SOLIDARITY

So far, 13 counties are on strike and 10 more are planning to join in on Monday. They are: Murang'a, Tana River, Nakuru, Siaya, Kakamega, Narok, Makueni, Bomet and Busia.

On Tuesday and Wednesday next week, Uasin Gishu and Isiolo will respectively join the rest in downing their tools.

"We want to urge our members to remain firm and fight for their rights because the Constitution of Kenya under Article 41 provides that every worker has a right to go on strike and that the strike is properly protected," Mr Panyako

"If there is anything otherwise, we shall advise our members properly; but as far as I am concerned the strike was initiated by our members who are in the counties; it is them who give this union direction; if they say today that we call off the strike we will," he said.

POLITICS

He said the labour relation matters are handled in accordance with law. That if any employer thinks employees are not fulfilling their duties then they should take the right cause of action.

"I cannot respond to the President. I have no mandate to respond. If I do that I will be overstepping my mandate. I am not a politician. I am a leader of workers and I deal with employers," he said.

He said if politicians start challenging them as union leaders to make a political statement at the expense of nurses, then they would be deviating from their core mandate.

Mr Panyako said when they wrote a letter to the Salaries and Remuneration Commission calling for a meeting to discuss the strike, the commission instructed them to raise the issues with their employers.

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