Governors threaten to terminate contracts of striking health workers

Wycliffe Oparanya

Council of Governors Chairman Wycliffe Oparanya addressing guests at Movenpick Hotel, Westlands on January 13, 2021 during the farewell luncheon for retired Chief Justice David Maraga by the Council of Governors. 

Photo credit: Lucy Wanjiru | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • County governors dismiss striking health workers' demands for pay hike.
  • Health CS Mutahi Kagwe clarified that the return-to-work formula signed with the health workers only affected national government workers. 

Can’t pay, won’t pay! That was the message county governors sent to striking health workers yesterday, signalling the escalation of a bruising battle over pay that has left millions of Kenyans without primary medical care in the midst of a global pandemic.

Accusing striking nurses and clinical officers of dishonesty, injustice and greed over their clamour for higher salaries and allowances, the governors said they will terminate the contracts of those taking part in the “illegal” strike and replace them with fresh hands.

Council of Governors chairman Wycliffe Oparanya said it was unconscionable that medical workers expect to be paid much more than their colleagues in other professions, and rallied his fellow governors towards a common undertaking not to bow to pressure.

This came as Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe clarified that the return-to-work formula signed with the health workers at a forum spearheaded by his Labour counterpart Simon Chelugui only affected national government workers. 

Dismissing claims that the two levels of government were reading from different scripts on the ongoing strike, which enters day 38 today, Mr Kagwe said they did not want to interefere with negotiations between the health workers’ unions and the counties. 

This means that patients, who have borne the brunt of the industrial action, face bleaker days ahead as medics and their employers square it off.

The impasse, coming at a time when the country is grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic, and just as millions of learners settle back in class to study under extremely risky environments, could result in the loss of life or limb during emergencies that require crucial clinical care and observation.

But governors indicated yesterday that this was a gamble they were willing to take, and that, even as talks between them and medical unions continue, they plan to dig in.

“We simply cannot afford it,” said Mr Oparanya. “We have done our best to meet their needs.” His sentiments were echoed by Kisii Governor James Ongwae, who noted that medical workers on average earn more than other cadres of professionals in the same job groups.

Salaries and allowances

A cycle of industrial action since the management of health services was devolved to the counties 10 years ago has seen a steady rise in salaries and allowances for medics, which Mr Ongwae attributed to “obtuse and inconsiderate demands” by unions.

Speaking during a meeting with editors yesterday, the CoG presented a comparative analysis of what other cadres (teachers, economists and engineers) at the county level are getting vis-a-vis what they are paying the nurses and doctors.

Doctors’ maximum pay is twice that of other cadres. On a monthly basis, the highest paid doctor gets about Sh588,000, compared to Sh269,000 for other cadres, while the lowest paid earns Sh264,000, compared to Sh65,000 for other cadres.

Nurses on the other hand earn about Sh430,000, with the lowest-paid getting Sh100,000, while other cadres earn half of what the healthcare workers are paid.

Same applies to clinical officers, who are highly paid as compared to other professions, with the highest-paid earning Sh430,000 compared to Sh269, 000 for the highly paid in other cadres.

“We also have other professionals to pay every month. We cannot meet the demands of the (medics). Those who love their jobs should report back to work while those who don’t will be replaced,” Mr Oparanya said

This comes at a time that the two cadres have vowed to press on with their strike until their grievances are met. Kenya Union of Clinical Officers Secretary-General George Gibore said they were not going to fight with the governors on issues that were already signed by the national government.

“We are ready for anything. Let them sack us and withdraw every allowance that we get from the counties,” Mr Gibore said.

Currently, doctors earn Sh20,000 risk as allowance per month, nurses Sh3,850 per month, clinical officers Sh3,000 and other officers Sh2,000. The SRC wants these rates maintained.

Additional reporting by Hellen Shikanda


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