More than 4,000 county workers have downed their tools citing two months’ unpaid salaries, grounding crucial services, including, health, to a halt.
The workers, who include nurses, doctors, and clinical officers, accused Governor Hassan Joho of callousness after splurging money on a musical concert and a fireworks display on New Year’s Day at the Mama Ngina Waterfront Park.
Religious leaders and human rights groups have also piled pressure on the county to pay workers, saying, patients are suffering in hospitals due to lack of medical care.
“We were broke over Christmas and New Year’s Day and now our children cannot go back to school due to lack of fees. We have tried to plead with our employer to at least pay part of the arrears to enable us make ends meet but nothing is forthcoming,” said Kenya Union of Clinical Officers Mombasa Secretary-General Frankline Makanga.
Kenya County Government Workers Union Mombasa branch official Haji Mwinyi said: “It’s unacceptable for an employer to fail to recognise or value employees.”
Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentist Union Coast Secretary-General Shabaan Nassir and Mombasa Branch Chairman Hassan Mkuche said their meeting with Mr Joho on Friday did not bear any fruits.
“We [won’t return to work] until our salaries are paid in full and all workers are signed up for the National Health Insurance Fund,” Dr Mkuche said.
Dr Nassir accused the county government of not prioritising the health sector. Reached for comment, County Public Service Board Chairperson Farida Abdalla assured workers that the arrears will be paid “soon”.
“We are [set to meet] with [union officials] to discuss the matter further,” Ms Abdalla told Nation. But Commission for Human Rights and Justice Executive Director Julius Ogogoh wondered how Mr Joho could “waste” money on musicians while his workers were broke.
Religious leaders, led by Sparki Mosque Imam Sheikh Abu Hamza, urged President Uhuru Kenyatta to intervene.
“It is the poor who suffer when medics strike. It is sad that the county can decide to use funds for entertainment while workers remain penniless," he said.
Amid a public furore on New Year’s Eve, Governor Joho was quick to defend the concert, saying, it was meant to uplift the artistes financially. He later hosted several musicians, including Nyashinski, Redsan, Sudi Boy, Tanasha Donna, Susumila, Chikuzee, Ally B, Happy C, Femi One, Takers Dancers and King Kaka to a New Year’s Day party.
He argued that the event would boost the ailing entertainment industry that was hit hard by Covid-19 restrictions.
“The artistes will make a lot of money from this gig. This is also a way of unwinding from the stresses of life. But I urge people to be careful and take responsibility [because of] this pandemic. This has been an annual event but we didn’t hold it in 2020 due to the pandemic and the containment measures,” Mr Joho said ahead of the concert.
“Mombasa is a service economy. This [concert] indicates the confidence we have in our economy and our county as a tourist destination. Entertainment is a creative economy that is meant to benefit the youth. Many young people are making money through music,” he added.