What you need to know:
- Nurses in public hospitals have downed their tool to protest poor salaries.
- The more than 25,000 nurses are demanding the implementation of a CBA signed between their union and the Council of Governors.
- Extraordinary, house and hardship allowances are to be retained at the existing rates as per existing SRC circulars.
One person died after he was turned away from a hospital on Monday, as the health sector was thrown into a crisis after the Salaries and Remuneration Commission rejected a new pay agreement for nurses, which had been negotiated by the Council of Governors.
Nurses in public hospitals have downed their tool to protest poor salaries.
The more than 25,000 nurses are demanding the implementation of a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) signed between their union and the Council of Governors (CoG).
Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN) acting secretary-general Maurice Opetu has accused the governors of being insensitive to their plight.
But governors said they were dedicated to ending the strike and had forwarded a draft proposal on the health worker’s needs to the commission for approval.
SH40.3 BILLION PROPOSAL
CoG chairman Josphat Nanok and counties’ health committee chairman James Ongwae said they had presented a proposal for Sh40.3 billion to the commission and that they were just waiting for a no-objection letter before implementing it.
“Once the commission makes a pronouncement on the matter, county governments will go ahead and sign the CBA with the nurses’ union,” said Mr Nanok.
However, on Monday the commission’s secretary Anne Gitau in a letter said the commission is restrained to issue a “no objection letter” since the draft CBA had ignored its advise.
The SRC, in a letter dated March 9, advised governors that the CBA be negotiated, subject to availability of funds.
The nurses reached an agreement with the CoG in December last year.
The SRC said the purpose for the grading structure is equity and harmony.
It had also advised negotiations of basic salaries to be within the framework of the final approved job evaluation salary structure provided for health workers and communicated by the SRC to the Ministry of Health.
It also advised that health risk allowance be enhanced to a maximum of Sh5,000 a month. Nursing service allowance was to be harmonised to Sh20,000, effective July 1, and to be funded by respective employers.
Extraordinary, house and hardship allowances are to be retained at the existing rates as per existing SRC circulars.
Ms Gitau said the commission is yet to receive a response to a letter dated March 27 addressed to the chairperson of the County Public Service Board National Negotiating Team and copied to the CoG, requesting confirmation of availability of funds.
DELAY OF SALARIES
The CoG had thrown the blame on the delay of nurses’ salaries on the SRC’s failure to issue a letter of “no objection”.
The strike comes six months after they signed the return to work formula. The nurses’ allowances amounts to Sh3.4 billion annually.
The strike disrupted services in public hospitals in various parts of the country, with patients, some in critical condition, being turned away.
Mr Joseph Leng’uro, who was critically ill, died soon after he was turned away from the Samburu County Referral Hospital.
Hospital administrators told his family to take him to a private hospital but he died outside the hospital.
Six parents in the same hospital removed their babies from the incubator machines without the doctor’s consent, fearing for the infants’ lives.
At the same time, services stalled in Kakamega, Vihiga, Kisii, Bomet and Homa Bay counties as the health workers kept off work.
In Vihiga, all nursing services were paralysed as the caregivers gathered at Vihiga County Referral Hospital in Mbale to officially launch their boycott.
Patients were stranded at various health facilities, with many being caught unawares by the industrial action.
Nurses in Kakamega threw out interns at the Kakamega General Hospital as doctors struggled to attend to patients, with the help of pharmacists.
Kakamega KNUN chairman Renson Bulunya and Vihiga secretary Caleb Maloba said the strike would go on until their demands are met.
EFFECTS OF STRIKE
“More than 1,000 nurses in Kakamega region will participate in demonstrations and will not set foot in hospitals until their needs are catered for,” said Mr Bulunya.
The union’s Homa Bay executive secretary George Bola said: “We are joining our colleagues nationally to demand higher pay, which the governors have failed to honour.”
At the Homa Bay County Teaching and Referral Hospital, patients felt the effects of the strike.
In Kisii, the nurses took to the streets to protest the failure to sign the CBA.
At the Kisii Teaching and Referral Hospital, there were no services in the maternal child health clinics, palliative care and renal dialysis departments, which are administered by nurses.
“I have been told to go away and return when the nurses resume duty, though the clinical officers do not know when they will be back,” said Ms Asenath Ongaga, an expectant mother who had an appointment at the clinic on Monday.
The hospital’s chief executive Enoch Ondari was away on official duties and could not be reached for comment.
In Bomet, the union’s deputy secretary Benard Cheruiyot said the 348 nurses in the region would keep off work until the deal was signed.
In Mombasa, the strike paralysed health services in all public hospitals.
At the Coast Provincial General Hospital patients and their relatives waited desperately for services.
Ms Esther Mkai said her relative had been in the hospital for almost a month and that he was on Monday discharged prematurely due to the strike.
“We are being told that the nurses are going on strike and this is the beginning of our suffering. They should think of our wellbeing. People are going to die here,” said another patient, Mr Lawrence Changawa.
The union’s Mombasa secretary Peter Maroko said: “This is a national strike. The government wants to dilly dally but we will not allow it. In Mombasa alone, we have 700 nurses who are on strike. We are not going to listen to any one but our top officials, on the way forward.”
Health executive Binti Omar said the county would engage the union officials on the way forward.
However, she said the county was not in a position to solve the CBA problem but officials were trying their level best to ensure that patients are attended to.
In Nakuru, services were disrupted in public hospitals as all the nurses stayed away.
“The governors had already agreed on the details of the CBA. The only reason it has not been effected is because the salaries commission has not given a go-ahead for it to be signed,” said Ms Cyprian Odero, the union’s South Rift secretary.
In Kwale, the nurses demonstrated in the town, chanting slogans and vowing to continue with the strike until their demands were met.
The strike affected operations at Kwale sub-county Hospital where services were offered only to outpatients.
The union’s chairman Tobias Onyango said nurses would only resume duty after the agreement was signed.
“We will continue with the strike until such a time when the two levels of government will honour the agreement,” said Mr Onyango.
In Mt Kenya region, some nurses heeded the strike call, while others continued with their work as usual.
Nurses at Chuka County Referral Hospital reported for work in the morning as usual, although the branch chairman, Mr Fabian Marigu, said they would also join the strike.
In Nyeri and some parts of Meru, the strike did not take off, while in Mandera no services were offered in all the 60 health facilities.
In Nairobi, Mr Nanok said the nurses’ demands require huge adjustments of national and county government budgets.
“But the government is still in talks with the union to come up with an amicable solution,” he added.
“We want to agree on a figure you and I can afford because the money will be coming from taxpayers,” said Mr Ongwae, the Kisii governor.
He accused the nurses of rushing to go on strike when the negotiations had not been concluded.
Reported by Godfrey Oundoh, Brian Moseti, Verah Okeyo, Derick Luvega, Judy Mito, Aggrey Omboki, Barrack Oduor, Geoffrey Rono, Reitz Mureithi, Steve Njuguna and Faith Nyamai