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Over 300 Vihiga nurses go on strike over delayed salaries

Thursday March 26 2020

Vihiga County Referral Hospital

Vihiga County Referral Hospital in Mbale. Nurses went on strike on March 25, 2020 to protest delayed payment of February salaries. PHOTO | DERICK LUVEGA | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

DERICK LUVEGA
By DERICK LUVEGA
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Operations in public hospitals in Vihiga County are facing paralysis at a critical time after nurses went on strike on Wednesday to protest delayed payment of February salaries.

This is the second strike by the health workers in two months, at a time when Kenya is grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic.

The strikes are dubbed ‘salary parades’.

The more than 300 nurses abandoned their work to press for the settlement of their dues.

PROTECTIVE GEAR

The nurses also protested that the county government has failed to provide them with personal protection and screening equipment for use when handling suspected coronavirus cases.

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They vowed not to resume duty until they are paid for the months of February and March and necessary materials for protection against the Covid-19 pandemic provided.

The local Kenya National Union of Nurses (Knun) Secretary Caleb Maloba said his members had no option by to stage the protest.

The union official said delays in settlement of their dues has become the norm since the start of the year.

The nurses staged their first ‘salary parade’ last month following delays in the payment of January salaries.

They only resumed duty late last month after their salaries were paid.

PENDING BILLS

The county government had blamed the non-payment of pending bills for the delayed salaries after the Controller of Budget declined to approve its budgetary requisition.

Last week, Governor Wilber Ottichilo promised that the county government workers would be paid by last Friday, but this was not effected.

“This has become a trend and we are deeply aggrieved. Moving forward, our members shall take part in salary parades from the sixth day of each subsequent month if salaries for the previous month will not have been paid," Mr Maloba said on Wednesday.

"Our colleagues in the neighbouring counties are just about to receive salaries for March," he said.

At a recent event, Dr Ottichilo indicated that his administration and the Controller of Budget had agreed not to tie pending bills with salaries.

The two were to be treated separately to avoid causing delays in paying of salaries to the workers.

COVID-19 PREPAREDNESS

On the preparedness to handle Covid-19, Mr Maloba said, "As a union, we value the lives of our members and we therefore advice members not to take risks attending to suspected cases of Covid-19 without necessary protective gear and training."

The nurses want to be provided with personal protective equipment, face masks and hand sanitisers.

Governor Ottichilo had last week said that the county is ready to receive and attend to any suspected case after setting up a four-bed isolation ward at the referral hospital in Mbale town.

ISOLATION WARDS

He said the building housing the isolation ward has an expandable capacity of up to 20 beds.

The governor further said everybody entering the referral hospital is being screened and that this would be extended to other health facilities in the county.

He said his administration has set aside Sh20 million through the contingency fund to be used for preventive measures and emergency response in Covid-19 cases.

Dr Ottichilo noted that more protective equipment will be made available following the collaboration between the national and county governments.