New wave of strikes plunges county hospitals into crisis

Thursday May 5 2016

Union officials from Nyeri County join hands in show of solidarity after addressing a press conference outside the governor’s office in Nyeri Town on November 23, 2015. Nurses in Nakuru and Busia counties have downed their tools as Meru ones vow to strike if their grievances are not addressed. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Union officials from Nyeri County join hands in show of solidarity after addressing a press conference outside the governor’s office in Nyeri Town on November 23, 2015. Nurses in Nakuru and Busia counties have downed their tools as Meru ones vow to strike if their grievances are not addressed. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By NATION TEAM
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Nakuru and Busia counties have been plunged into a health crisis after nurses in public hospitals went on strike over pay and promotions.

In Meru, nurses have vowed to go ahead with a strike called for next week after talks with the executive stalled.

In Nakuru, the nurses went on strike Wednesday over delayed promotions and have vowed to stay at home until the county government honours a return-to-work deal agreed in August last year.

The agreement was reached after a two-week strike left at least 12 patients dead.

Nurses’ union chairperson Cyprian Odera said in a statement on Wednesday they had resolved to strike after efforts to talk to county officials failed.

“We have attempted to engage the county health team but nothing is forthcoming. The only way they will listen is through a strike,” said Ms Odera.

Mr Julius Nyambaka, a Kenya National Union of Nurses official, said the county administration had refused to promote nurses as earlier agreed.

The union, through secretary-general Seth Panyako, last week issued a notice threatening a strike beginning on Tuesday.

However, county executive for health Kabii Mungai told Nation that 1,008 of the 1,400 who qualified had been promoted.

“The agreement was to promote 1,700 health care givers but 1,400 qualified and we have so far elevated 1,008, with the latest 75 getting their letters last week,” said Dr Mungai.

He said the rest will be promoted once a supplementary budget is approved.

He warned the nurses against going on strike, saying they risked being sacked.

DELAYED SALARIES

In Busia, over 1,000 health workers went on strike on Tuesday over delayed salaries and failure to remit statutory deductions.

A check at the referral hospital revealed deserted wards and the few remaining patients being sent home.

All level four hospitals, dispensaries and health centres have been affected.

Area union chairman Isaiah Omondi said only 200 of the 600 workers had been promoted. He said some doctors are due for promotion but the vacancies have not been advertised, resulting in many of them leaving.

“Doctors, physicians and consultants are leaving for other counties because of delayed salaries and promotions,” he said.

Mr Omondi said for the past three years, no money had been remitted for deductions and banks had blacklisted most of the staff.

“Despite the money being deducted from our payslips, none is being sent to various organisations. Most workers are being penalised by banks while others have been surcharged,” he said.

Patients who spoke to Nation said they could not afford to go to private clinics.

“My daughter has just undergone surgery and I am being told to discharge her. I don’t know what to do because I don’t have the money to take her to a private hospital,” said Ms Mary Onyango.

Governor Sospeter Ojaamong said the strike is uncalled for, claiming most of the nurses’ demands have been met.

“The county government has addressed most of the issues raised in the memorandum of understanding apart from one or two that we are working on. The health workers have no reason to strike,” he said.

In Meru, the nurses said the county government had failed to implement a return-to-work agreement signed last September.

Nurses union Meru branch chairman Mugambi Bakari told Nation on Wednesday that the county had promoted some workers but many other issues like salary increases had not been addressed.

“More than 400 nurses qualify for promotion but the county is dragging its feet in implementing the agreement despite a number of engagements with the executive,” said Mr Bakari.

Branch secretary-general Nesbitt Mugendi said the health workers will down tools until their demands are met.

“We have had meetings with the county health team and agreed on promotions and salary increments but till now, nothing has changed,” said Mr Mugendi.

County Secretary Julius Kimathi said 54 nurses had been promoted since last year and the rest would be elevated gradually.