We will not be cowed, nurses vow as strike enters day 37

Striking nurses

Members of Kenya National Union of Nurses and Kenya Union of Clinical Officers, Uasin Gishu County branch demonstrate in Eldoret town.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Nurses union officials asked Kenyans not to blame nurses for staying away from work.
  • The officials complained that nurses had been going for months without salaries.

Nurses have vowed to press on with their strike until their grievances are fully addressed, brushing aside governors’ threats to sack them.

With 36 days already gone since this cadre of health staff stopped reporting to work to demand higher risk allowances and to protest over poor working conditions, the Kenya National Union of Nurses (Knun) yesterday said they are tired of being taken for granted and will not be intimidated.

Union officials blamed the worsening situation in hospitals across the country on the decision by the Council of Governors (CoG) to go back on an agreement reached during a multi-agency consultative meeting spearheaded by Labour Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui.

“It is unfortunate that the signing of the return-to-work formula is yet to take place despite the issues raised at health facilities across the country. This is an indication that healthcare is not being treated with the seriousness it deserves. Our country’s leadership has made it clear that they are not serious and nobody cares,” acting Knun National Chairman Joseph Ngwasi said.

The officials asked Kenyans not to blame nurses for staying away from work, saying they had agreed terms with Health CS Mutahi Kagwe and the national government, but efforts to bring the CoG to the negotiating table had not borne fruit.

They added that a meeting scheduled to take place between the two tiers of government on Monday bounced after CoG representatives failed to show up.

“We are aware that the two levels of government have been engaging between themselves on the signing of the agreement. 

Delayed salaries

“It is unfortunate that a meeting that was to be held yesterday with the CoG did not materialise,” Knun deputy Secretary-General Morris Odhiambo said.

“Even if it will take one year or more, we shall not go back to work without an agreement,” Mr Odhiambo said.

The officials complained that nurses had been going for months without salaries. Vihiga County was accused of delaying nurses’ pay for 16 months. Mombasa was also cited for having not paid theirs since November last year.

Mr Odhiambo urged their members to not be cowed by threats from governors of Mombasa, Kisumu and Kisii, who said they had sacked striking health workers early this month.

“County governments have tried seeking injunctions over our strike. But on December 15, the court ruled that county governments should engage with us,” he said.

The unionist argued that the disciplinary actions taken on medics had no basis since their strike had not been declared illegal by a court of law.

Nurses began their strike on December 7 last year and have been accusing the government of favouring doctors over them.

Knun Secretary-General Seth Panyako indicated last year that their talks with the Ministry of Health collapsed after they were offered a Sh8,000 risk allowance against the doctors’ Sh30,000.

“Why do we have people in this country looking down on nurses? We are not subordinate to doctors. We are the most important personnel in hospitals. We are the hospitals,” Mr Panyako said.

Untenable to work

Kisii County administration terminated an agreement with its clinical officers on Monday, arguing that the latter breached their employment contract. 

A memo from acting County Secretary Robert Ombasa to Kenya Union of Clinical Officers Secretary-General George Gibore stated that the move had been taken after the clinical officers failed to suspend their strike and resume duty despite a court order to that effect.

In the memo, Mr Ombasa said “it had become untenable to work and cooperate with a union membership that does not respect the law and due process”.

“We have noted with concern that despite court orders compelling union members in Kisii to resume duty, none of them respected the orders” Mr Ombasa noted, adding that “it is against this frustrating background that the county government has regrettably opted to initiate the process of terminating the said recognition agreement”.

Mr Ombasa was referring to a recognition agreement signed between the clinical officers and Kisii County in December 2016.

The county has since given the clinical officers a six-month notice for the termination of the agreement. 
Unless things change in the intervening months, the agreement between the two parties will not be binding from June this year.

“The purpose of this letter is to serve as a notice of termination of the contract,” Mr Ombasa wrote.