Infighting hits nurses’ union as patients are left to suffer

Kenya National Union of Nurses Machakos Branch protest in Machakos town . The nurses were demanding signing of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Photo: John Muia, Standard

Divisions have emerged in the nurses’ union as officials differ over the legality of the strike that started on Monday.

The national chairman of the Kenya National Union of Nurses, John Bii, termed the strike illegal and accused the secretary-general, Seth Panyako, of impeding the negotiations between the health workers and the Council of Governors (COG).

Speaking in Eldoret, Bii accused Dr Panyako of being dishonest by calling a strike in the middle of negotiations.

“It is not in dispute that nurses in the public sector were awarded nursing service allowance of Sh20,000 last year during the negotiated return-to-work formula, which was paid in January and February in most counties and national facilities. This was, however, stopped after the nurses, through the secretary-general, demanded health service allowance, which was the preserve of other health care cadres,” Bii said.

According to Bii, Panyako wrote demand letters to the COG without the consent of the union’s national executive council and national governing council, claiming the nurses were entitled to the health service allowance.

The council has declared the matter a dispute and lodged it with the Ministry of Labour. It invited the union for a meeting at 10am.

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This followed the Salaries and Remuneration Commission’s rejection of the CoG’s pay proposals on grounds that they were not enforceable.

The union’s acting secretary-general, Maurice Opetu, while calling the strike, demanded that a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) signed between the union and the COG be implemented.

As the strike entered its second day, there were reports of misery as patients were turned away from public hospitals as the health workers stayed away from work.

Eight people died at the Coast Provincial General Hospital, the county chief officer in charge of health services, Dr Khadija Shikely, said.

The Standard could not, however, independently confirm whether the deaths were as a result of the strike.

At the Rift Valley Provincial General Hospital in Nakuru, patients who had travelled from far were told to return home or seek services in private facilities.

Some of the patients in wards were unattended and only those who had cleared their medical bills were discharged.

Peter Momanyi, a patient diagnosed with diabetes, has been at the hospital for two weeks but was discharged although his condition has not improved.

Patients admitted to the Nyahururu and Nanyuki county hospitals were advised to seek treatment at private hospitals.

Patients admitted to the Kisumu and Homa Bay county referral hospitals were also discharged.

In Embu all the 680 nurses working in public hospitals boycotted work.

In Kirinyaga County, 51 critically ill inpatients at the Kerugoya Level Five Hospital were left unattended.

The hospital had more than 200 inpatients on Monday when the nurses’ strike started, but the number had gone down.

Major services were also not being offered at Elburgon, Gilgil, Njoro, and Bahati hospitals in Rift Valley. The hospitals are manned by administrators and clinical officers with the assistance of voluntary health care workers.

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The union’s Nakuru branch general-secretary, Syprine Odera, insisted that the strike was still on. 

 

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