Nurses strike in Kenya – reports of patients dying

File photo: Voice of the Nurses Union / Facebook

Nurses have gone on strike in Kenya demanding for the implementation of a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that they struck previously with their employer, but which has not yet been formally approved and signed by the government.

The Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN) directed its 45,000 members to down their tools from last Monday until the CBA is implemented. The CBA is meant to govern the relationship between the nurses and county governments, which are responsible for health provision.

The situation is so dire that some public hospitals have been discharging patients prematurely and turning away others for lack of personnel. Family members of the patients have been forced to take them to private health facilities, a daunting task for many low-income earners.

So far, nine people have been reported dead in different parts of the country.

The strike comes soon after the doctors’ union called off their strike, which affected provision of medical services from late last year to early this year. The doctors agreed to return to work after they were promised that their grievances will be looked into.

Last week, the secretary-general of the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) accused county governments of failing to honour a return-to-work formula that ended their 100-day strike. They threatened to go back on strike if their salaries are not paid promptly.

Responding to this, governors, through the Council of Governors forum, said counties had not paid the doctors because the Treasury had not provided the money. The county governments depend on the national government for funds to cater for devolved functions.

When Kenya enacted a new constitution in 2010, it devolved health care provision to the counties. The national government was left in charge of national referral health facilities and policy formulation.

After the nurses signed a deal with the governors, no further progress was seen pending formal adoption by the governors, registration in court and implementation of the same.

The Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) is a constitutional body that is tasked with giving advice to the government on issues relating to salaries and remuneration. It has rejected the new pay agreement for nurses, saying that it is untenable to implement it in the current economic situation.

The commission’s secretary Anne Gitau said the commission refused to issue a “no objection letter” since the draft CBA had ignored its advice. The SRC had advised governors that the CBA be negotiated subject to availability of funds.

Initially, the governors blamed the Salaries and Remuneration Commission for allegedly failing to sanction the CBA to pave the way for its implementation. The Labour Cabinet Secretary has called for a meeting between the governors, the nurses’ union and the Health Principal Secretary in a bid to end the strike.

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