Kenya: Workers Go On Strike As Cash Crisis Hits 20 Counties

13 August 2019

A public service crisis of monumental proportions looms in at least 20 counties starting today as staff embark on a go-slow to demand payment of their July salaries, the culmination of a debilitating standoff between the National Assembly and the Senate over the Division of Revenue Bill.

Aggrieved workers have, through the Kenya County Government Workers Union (KCGWU), vowed to disrupt normal operations by staging pay parades and go-slows until their dues are fully paid.

With Parliament on recess, it is not clear how soon their grievances will be addressed.

The counties say they do not have money to pay salaries as they have not received their allocations from the Exchequer because of the stalemate on how much they should get.

Council of Governors chairman Wycliffe Oparanya on Monday said there is nothing they can do now to avert the strike, so they will wait it out.

The Senate proposes that counties should get Sh335 billion from Treasury to run their affairs, but the National Assembly says that figure should be trimmed down to Sh316 billion.

Governors, naturally, are rooting for the higher figure, hence the stalemate.

COMPLIANCE

Mr Oparanya lamented that "the Senate and the National Assembly have proceeded on recess, so there is nothing going on" as far as solving the impasse is concerned.

Counties likely to be affected by the strike, according to the workers' union, include Kitui, Machakos, Embu, Meru, Bungoma, Nakuru, Elgeyo-Marakwet, Siaya, Tharaka-Nithi, Isiolo and Marsabit. Others are West Pokot, Kisumu, Baringo, Samburu, Kericho, Homa Bay, Nyeri, Murang'a, Laikipia and Taita-Taveta.

"These counties have not paid and have not shown any indication of an intention to pay. They are rogue and from Wednesday there is going to be a total paralysis of services rendered by our members there," said the union secretary-general Roba Duba.

The union issued a seven-day strike notice on Tuesday last week. By Sunday, only 23 counties had taken heed and paid salaries. Three others pledged to settle the arrears today.

The 23 counties that have paid their workers include Nairobi, Migori, Makueni, Trans-Nzoia, Kakamega, Kisii, Wajir, Nyamira, Nyandarua, Lamu, Kwale and Tana River. Others are Garissa, Mandera, Kajiado, Turkana, Nandi, Bomet, Vihiga, Narok, Mombasa, Siaya and Kiambu.

Those that have pledged to pay salaries today are Kilifi, Busia and Kirinyaga. The union is in discussions with Uasin Gishu over the same.

FINDING A SOLUTION

Joining KCGWU in solidarity last Tuesday were Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU), Union of Kenya Civil Servants and the Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN).

Clinical officers and laboratory technologists on Saturday also threatened to withdraw their services in unity with the four giant unions.

The county workers had warned governors not to contemplate delaying last month's salaries following a letter by the Council of Governors indicating that the coffers of counties had run dry.

The July 23 letter by CoG chairman Oparanya asked unions and county government workers to prepare for tough times ahead over the disbursement of salaries and other related payments due to delays in the passage of the bill for this financial year.

On Monday, Amani National Congress leader Musalia Mudavadi also waded into the matter, saying he was "appealing to the National Assembly and the Senate to have a round table discussion to resolve the issue"; as "the more we continue wrangling over revenue share, the more we hurt county governments".

In Kisumu, more than 7,000 workers vowed down their tools even as the county's leadership scrambled to avert the industrial action.

"As things stand, the strike is still on and we will mobilise all our members to keep off their work stations until money is wired to their bank accounts," the local secretary of the workers' union, Mr Rashid Ondu, told the Nation.

SERVICE DELIVERY

In the neighbouring Siaya County, staff were asked to remain patient as their salaries were being processed.

County Secretary Joseph Ogutu said officials from the finance department last week met their National Treasury counterparts to push for the release of money.

The county needs about Sh180 million to pay staff salaries.

In Vihiga, Governor Wilber Ottichilo said Kenya National Union of Nurses officials had issued the strike notice, and lamented that "if this is allowed to happen, our people will die". The neighbouring Kakamega County paid its workers on Thursday last week.

In Homa Bay, the county workers' union chairman Tom Akech told the Nation his office had notified members not to report to work today, while in Kisii the chairman of the local chapter of the nursing union, Mr Fred Oigo, said nurses had been paid their salaries so normal operations will not be disrupted.

In the Mt Kenya region, governors were on Monday engaged in frantic efforts to avert the strike.

In Meru, Mr Mugambi Bakari, chairman of the local nurses' union, said they had not been paid and will therefore meet today to chart the way forward.

HUGE DEFICIT

In Tharaka-Nithi, Governor Muthomi Njuki said July salaries were released last Friday, while in Marsabit the county spokesperson, Mr Issa Gambare, said funds had been sourced from "elsewhere" to avert the crisis.

In Baringo, workers, through the union secretary-general Joseph Cheruiyot, said they were ready to down their tools, while in Elgeyo-Marakwet Governor Alex Tolgos admitted the county is broke.

"We have a huge deficit in our budget and the workers risk going without salaries," Mr Tolgos said.

He added that he was disappointed that the County Assembly had refused to surrender part of its annual budgetary allocation to bail them out of the financial crisis.

The same scenario was repeated in West Pokot and Uasin Gishu counties, where union officials asked members not to report to duty until they received their salaries.

However, in Nandi, County Secretary Francis Sang said workers received their salaries last week, paid from internal revenue and savings from previous financial years.

PAYMENTS MADE

In Trans-Nzoia, the county government equally released Sh400 million for July salaries. The union chairman, Mr Sammy Kiboi, said 4,800 workers received their salaries last Friday.

At the coast, workers in Lamu have already been paid, while in Kilifi the County Secretary, Mr Arnold Mkare, said workers would not down their tools today.

In Mombasa however, Governor Hassan Joho's officials have since last week been pleading with more than 4,000 county workers not to join the industrial action.

The workers' union official Hajj Mwinyi said they met with senior officials from the finance department last week and were promised they would receive their salaries today.

In Taita-Taveta, workers said they would go on strike today. The county secretary-general for the Kenya National Union of Nurses, Mr Reuben Matolo, said they will camp at the governor's office until their grievances are addressed.

Reporting by Collins Omulo, Benson Amadala, Victor Raballa, Dickens Wasonga, Derick Luvega, Justus Ochieng', George Odiwuor, Benson Ayienda, Josiah Odanga, David Muchui, Gitonga Marete, Alex Njeru, Jacob Walter, Waweru Wairimu, Barnabas Bii, Florah Koech, Evans Kipkura, Tom Matoke, Gerald Bwisa, Dennis Lubanga, Oscar Kakai, Kalume Kazungu and Maureen Ongala

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