Nurses have blamed their ongoing strike on the electioneering season, which has resulted in a situation where governors have no time for them.
In an interview with the Nation, Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN) acting secretary-general Michael Opetu said the suffering of Kenyans had been relegated to the backstage because of the political campaigns.
“People are suffering at home and others paying the high price of health care at private hospitals yet the governors and the national government are engrossed in election campaigns,” he said.
He continued: “As we speak, many public hospitals are closed. The only referral hospital where people can get help in western Kenya, the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret, is also closed. Where do you think people are getting help? Don’t you think more people are dying at home?”
The nurses started their strike on June 5, protesting against what they said was a breach of a collective bargaining agreement that was to be signed by the government on March 2.
According to the draft CBA, nurses are demanding monthly allowances amounting to Sh25,400 each.
They want a Sh15,400 health risk allowance, a Sh5,000 extraneous allowance and a Sh5,000 responsibility allowance.
They are also pushing for a Sh50,000 uniform allowance, paid annually.
Mr Opetu said the governors should be ready to tackle the pending issues of promotion and allowances for nurses.
He said they have been ready for talks but the governors have shown no interest, adding that most politicians have been mentioning their plight in passing without delving deeper into the matter.
“Ever since we started the negotiations, they (governors) would always turn up without any meaningful agenda, other than requesting us to go back to work as if we left without a reason,” said Mr Opetu.
He accused the governors of always talking about a job evaluation yet it is the duty of the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) to do that.
“They have given us a blackout and it is as if the election is everything. We are not going back to work until they give us what is rightfully ours.
The governors have misplaced priorities and give fake excuses, instead of addressing the agenda, which is the CBA,” said Mr Opetu.
The governors, on the other hand, blamed the nurses for allegedly showing little interest in resuming talks and ending the strike.
“We were ready to engage the nurses at the onset of the strike but they showed no interest. We also had other engagements that we had to attend to urgently,” said Kisumu Governor Jack Ranguma, who chairs the Council of Governors’ Health Committee.
Mr Ranguma said in as much as the nurses had legitimate demands, it was beyond the governors to meet them since they do not have a budget to increase their salaries.
He said the CBA would cost taxpayers Sh40.3 billion to implement over the next four years, which he termed untenable.
“We requested nurses to go back to work as we negotiate their demands but they were not willing. We have since held several negotiations but they are still not willing,” said Mr Ranguma.
He added that governors are still willing to engage the nurses should they reconsider their stand, adding that the SRC has to approve the salary increase before it is implemented.
The governors and the SRC have been locked in a disagreement over how to end the stalemate yet patients are suffering in public hospitals.
SRC chairperson Sarah Serem maintains she can only approve the increase once the governors say they have the money.