Nurses on Tuesday accused Health Cabinet Secretary Cleopa Mailu of dishonesty and political meddling after the CS allowed county governments to sack all striking health workers.
Through the Kenya National Union of Nurses Secretary-General Seth Panyako, the nurses, who have been on strike for 119 days now, said they will not be cowed into submission through threats of job losses.
They also accused the national government of maintaining a hardline stance in negotiations on allowances, saying State officials were not committed to ending the deadlock.
“We have forfeited so much,” Mr Panyako said in an interview with the Nation in his Nairobi office.
“We are now only asking for three things to be resolved: our job grading, health risk allowance, and uniform allowance.”
Mr Panyako’s reaction came in the wake of Monday’s meeting between Dr Mailu and Catholic bishops in Mombasa, where the CS gave the Council of Governors the greenlight to sack striking nurses.
But nurses have resolved to stay put and continue with industrial action until the council, which is their employer, signs the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) it negotiated with them last year.
“The CS has no powers to purport to issue guidelines to the CoG on how to end the stalemate.
“Any directions on the issues can only come from the Labour ministry, the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC), and the Council of Governors, who are our employers,” Mr Panyako said.
He added: “If anyone should be fired, it is ministry officials who were part of the negotiations on the CBA from the beginning.
“By taking a hardline stance against the CBA, is Dr Mailu now suddenly unaware of the role the government played in those negotiations?”
He asked the CS to explain to Kenyans why the State honoured the doctors’ CBA, which provided Sh8.2 billion for around 4,000 doctors but could not provide Sh7.8 billion for 26,000 nurses.
Wondering what was difficult in implementation of the nurses’ CBA, Mr Panyako said nurses have withdrawn their claims for responsibility, call, and extraneous allowances and were even ready to negotiate the uniform allowances from the initial Sh50,000 down to Sh20,000 annually, but only if the issue of their job group was addressed.
He labelled the CS’s sentiments “predictable” and part of what he termed a scheme by the CS to frustrate the nurses’ bid for better terms of service.
The union appealed to President Uhuru Kenyatta to transfer Dr Mailu to the livestock ministry, saying he had failed to manage the health sector.
Mr Panyako said the union would meet with church representatives and other stakeholders “to brief them on the truth of the dispute and debunk myths and misconceptions peddled by the CS regarding the health sector crisis”.
And, as the stalemate persists, hundreds of patients are trooping to the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital (MTRH) to seek treatment as it is the only public hospital in the region where nurses are currently at work.
The second largest referral hospital in the country is receiving about 1,200 outpatients daily from the western and Rift Valley regions, where public hospitals have been crippled by the twin strikes by nurses and clinical officers.
“Apart from the patients that we usually receive, the number of patients from neighbouring counties is high.
“Some of these patients can receive treatment from local hospitals but since there are no services, they all flock to the referral,” MTRH chief executive officer Wilson Aruasa told the Nation.
Nurses employed by the referral hospital called off their strike last month after sealing a deal with the hospital’s management.
According to Dr Aruasa, the hospital’s resources and services were over-stretched as admitted patients were now sharing resources in the hospital.
A spot check revealed that the facility was over-stretched, especially in the maternity wing where mothers were forced to share beds.
“We are now handling about 40-50 births on a daily basis in the mother and baby section,” he said.
Dr Aruasa called on the Council of Governors (CoG) and the national government to find a quick solution to the stalemate.
In Garissa, the county’s referral hospital has been forced to engage the services of private health workers in their emergency wing to stand in for striking nurses and clinical officers.
The hospital, which is the largest referral health facility in northeastern region, has been hard hit by the strike.
Hospital Chief Executive Officer Salah Dagane said they have engaged the private nurses to offer emergency services at the facility.
The hospital is not admitting patients.
“We pray the government and public health workers, including nurses and clinical officers, work together to get a solution to the prevailing situation,” he told the Nation.
The hospital’s wards and maternity wing remained shut, with the emergency wing only handling a small number of patients.
Governor Ali Korane recently told the county assembly that his administration would engage the nurses in talks to resolve the dispute.
Reported by Aggrey Omboki, Eunice Omollo, Brenda Gamonde, Lilian Chebore and Abdimalik Hajir
Cleopa Mailu dismisses caregivers’ demands, says they lack merit.