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Lack of pay policy structure to blame for wave of strikes

Sunday March 19 2017

Striking doctors before their industrial dispute was resolved last week. To create a sustainable pay policy, experts say the Salaries Commission, Treasury and other relevant agencies must ensure equity in job structures. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO

Striking doctors before their industrial dispute was resolved last week. To create a sustainable pay policy, experts say the Salaries Commission, Treasury and other relevant agencies must ensure equity in job structures. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO  

By BRIAN NGUGI
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Lack of a sustainable pay policy in the public sector is to blame for the recent wave of industrial and labour unrest. The most painful is the strike by medical staff, which lasted nearly three months.

Doctors last week signed a deal to end the longest-ever medical strike in the country over pay. The government had threatened to fire them and hire foreign staff.

Earlier, striking dons agreed to return to work after the Universities Academic Staff Union (Uasu) and university councils agreed to sign the 2013-2017 collective bargaining agreement, ending a 54-day strike that paralysed learning and research in all public universities since January 19.

Amid the sigh of relief breathed by citizens, experts say a fragmented approach by the government and lack of a pay policy has been precipitating the crises affecting doctors, lecturers and other government workers.

They argue that unless a sustainable salary structure with equity is implemented, the country has not seen the last of industrial unrest.

Typically, governments are vulnerable to pay demands during election years. Also, once one union takes on the authorities, many others follow suit. 

The government is keen to look effective this election year and to avoid issues that could be used against it; so it is more likely to play ball. 

But according to the International Budget Partnership, a non-governmental organisation focused on transparency and public engagement in budgeting, Kenya’s public sector pay woes are largely anchored on lack of a sustainable and fair labour policy.

“I don’t think we have a policy. We have a bunch of different approaches to pay. The biggest problem is fragmentation,” says Budget Partnership country manager Jason Lakin.

Mr Lakin says the Salari