The government has ruled out any talks with striking nurses and asked the Council of Governors to sack and replace them.
Health Cabinet Secretary Cleopa Mailu on Tuesday termed the three-month job boycott as unnecessary and illegal as declared by the Employment and Labour Relations Court.
Speaking during the official opening of the 2017 Annual Catholic Health Conference and general meeting at Pride Inn Hotel in Mombasa, the CS said the national government was fully behind the resolutions made by the CoG to take administrative and legal action against nurses who will not resume duty.
“They should go ahead with the disciplinary measures, spare those who have returned to work and recruit other people,” he said.
“The categorisation of Salaries and Remuneration Commission is for all public and civil servants in the country. It is only in the health sector where we are finding these kind of unrests.”
He said there is no merit in the striking nurses’ grievances, and that it is unfair for the workers to question the authority of SRC, which is an independent body.
Last week, the CoG threatened to sack all nurses who have not resumed duty and advertise their positions.
Some counties, such as Lamu, have already advertised nurses’ job vacancies.
The CoG has described the nurses’ strike as illegal and unprotected.
In a statement, CoG chairman Josphat Nanok said the Employment and Labour Relations Court on September 1 declared the nurses’ industrial action illegal.
Mr Nanok asked officials of the Kenya National Union of Nurses (Knun) to call off the strike immediately and refrain from interfering with the smooth running of health care in Kenya.
“Their Collective Bargaining Agreement was not concluded since the process was broken by the strike and, therefore, negotiations with Kenya National Union of Nurses (Knun) officials, which calls for an illegal strike, is not on the table,” said Dr Mailu.
On Tuesday, the CS once more urged the nurses to resume duty before they resume talks with the government.
“Risks, uniform allowances and enhancements are not issues that should subject Kenyans to the kind of things that we are seeing. Once they resume duty, they will have obeyed the court order and then we can begin negotiations,” insisted the CS.
Dr Mailu, however, added: “The burden to the Exchequer is huge and this time we cannot accommodate any new funding. But in the context of the CBA we can spread the pay period. We can agree on when they can be implemented.’’
He said the clinical officers’ strike is against the SRC terms and therefore “they are on their own.”
“We have sat down with them and we believe they will both reconsider. On Monday morning, I had a meeting with nurses’ union officials and I am sure they will heed to our call. SRC has pronounced itself on the grading of all public servants please let’s obey,” added Dr Mailu.
But Knun dismissed Dr Mailu’s call for the firing of striking nurses and terming it politically motivated.
Knun organising secretary Seth Panyako said Dr Mailu had no authority to direct governors on what action to take on the dispute.
“The CS has no powers to purport to issue guidelines top 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 and the Council of Governors, who are our employers,” he said.
Mr Panyako said he wondered why the CS would support the axing of nurses despite having been aware of the CBA negotiations from the start.
“If anyone should be fired, it should be the ministry officials who were part of the negotiations on the CBA from the beginning,” he said.
“By taking a hardline stance against the CBA, is he now suddenly unaware of the role the government played in those negotiations?”
He asked the CS to explain to Kenyans why the state was able to honour the doctors’ CBA, which provided Sh8.2 billion for around 4,000 doctors, but was unable to provide 7.8 billion for 26,000 nurses.
He labelled the CS’s sentiments as “predictable” and part of what he termed “a scheme by the CS to frustrate the nurses bid for better terms of service”.
He accused the top state health official of being behind a move to ensure that nurses were restricted to what he labelled poverty-level wages, warning that nurses would not take it lying down.
“We will not tolerate such moves,” said the union official.
He alleged that the CS had personal difference with members of the nursing profession, attributing his Mombasa pronouncements to a desire to frustrate them.
“Dr Mailu has no respect for the nursing profession or sympathy whatsoever for whatever challenges the health workers are facing. He is also insensitive to Kenyans in their struggle to obtain the best possible public healthcare services,” said Mr Panyako.
He warned the CS against making “knee-jerk statements” driven by political motive, saying the health sector would only suffer if its management was politicised.
He appealed to President Uhuru Kenyatta to transfer the CS to the Livestock ministry, saying he had failed to manage the health sector.
Mr Panyako said the union would soon hold consultative meetings with churches 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”.