Nurses in at least 18 counties down their tools last week effectively paralyzing health services in major public hospitals.
The Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN) called for a strike protesting what it termed as a failure by the government to honor a previously agreed collective bargaining agreement.
KNUN Secretary General Seth Panyako says the deal in question was negotiated with county and the national governments back in 2017 even though a majority of counties are yet to implement as agreed.
“The strike has just begun. We are going to show them that if they dare play with our members’ lives they will have themselves to blame,” Panyako said as he announced the strike.
The now one-week old industrial action materialized even though it had been suspended by the industrial court.
Feeling emboldened by the ruling, the council of governors said the nurses cannot engage in a strike rendered illegal and urged them back to the negotiation table.
The Ministry of Labour and Social Protection also urged the nurses to call off the strike and give dialogue a chance.
According to Labour CS Ukur Yatani, nurses in affected counties should resume duty as the recently established conciliation committee looked into the issues raised.
But the nurses’ union boss would hear none of it. “We are not going to call off any strike unless the employer for nurses accepts to fulfill the agreement as was agreed in 2017,” he said
“We are not going engage the ministry of Labour or the council of governors in any further conciliation or negotiation of the issue of allowances because those issues were completed.” He added.
There appears to be no end in sight for the deepening crisis in the health sector. This is after nurses in other counties threatened to join their striking counterparts this week to push for the implementation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
The nurses are accusing the county administrations of failure to honor the return to work formula signed with the nurses’ union. In Mombasa County, for instance, the caregivers have issued a seven-day strike notice over the unpaid allowances.
It was one of the counties that had honored the return to work agreement, but nurses have since opted to join in the industrial action after their uniform and the nursing service allowances were withdrawn from their January salaries.
A section of leaders is now calling on the parties involved to quickly reach an amicable solution so as to avert a crisis as thousands begin to suffer the consequences of grounded health services.
“This strike should be taken more seriously than has been happening. We have observed it and it is generating a lot of tension in the country. It has left Kenyans miserable.
Nurses strike means there is no healthcare in hospitals.” Nyeri Senator Ephraim Maina said Just like the nurses’ umbrella union, some leaders also hold the view that the health function should be reverted back to the national government as opposed to being left in the hands of county governors.
“If we are going to amend the constitution, then we should push to have health back in central govt. Our counties have been unable to manage it well” One lawmaker charged.