Union boss Panyako issues seven-day ultimatum and threatens to take council chairman Oparanya to court
The countrywide nurses’ strike has taken a fresh twist after the Council of Governors ordered counties to stop remitting money to the nurses' union.
According to a letter written by the CoG chairman Wycliffe Oparanya and marked “urgent”, all the 47 county bosses have been instructed not to deduct nurses’ money that is usually sent to the Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN).
The letter, dated February 15, states that it would no longer be the responsibility of the government to deduct union dues from the health workers and remit to the unions.
“In the view of the above, county governments should not deduct and remit the union dues to the KNUN, instead the full salary should be paid to the nurses to enable them to remit the money to their union if they so wish,” states the statement.
It continues: "Following consultation between the national and county governments, we have agreed that it will not be our responsibility to deduct and remit money.”
Mr Oparanya said pursuit the section 52 of Labour Relations Act states that nothing shall prevent a member of trade union from paying any dues, levies or subscription or other payment authorised by the constitution of the trade union directly to trade union.
“The purpose of this letter is, therefore, to inform the county governments of the above provision of law and to recommend that counties adopt the same urgently,” said the statement signed by Mr Oparanya.
The statement was addressed to all governors, county secretaries, county health executives, county finance executives and all county attorneys.
This comes as some nurses defied an order by President Uhuru Kenyatta to report to work latest by Friday morning.
In an address from State House, Nairobi after a meeting with Council of Governors last Wednesday, Mr Kenyatta directed the Health ministry and county governments to fire nurses who defied the directive. However, according to figures from the CoG, some nurses reported while others defied the order.
The counties had also been ordered to take roll call by Friday to verify how many nurses had reported that.
According to the figures, Elgeyo Marakwet had 157 nurses on strike, and by yesterday 124 had reported to work. Embu had 508 on strike, 130 reported to work, West Pokot had 365 nurses and 88 reported by Friday morning. Kisii County had 326 nurses and 87 went to work.
In Taita Taveta 304 were on strike and only 66 reported to work. In Trans Nzoia only 53 nurses reported while in Kisumu and Homa Bay none of the nurses reported to work as directed by the President.
While responding to the statement by the CoG, KNUN Secretary-General Seth Panyako gave Mr Oparanya seven days to withdraw the letter or face contempt proceedings against him.
“We issue you with seven day’s notice to withdraw the offending letter or face contempt proceedings against you,” he said.
He said that the statement issued by CoG chair was in clear contravention of the Labour Act 2007 section 48 (1) (2) (3) and 50 (1) (10) and Employment Act 2007 section 19 (1) g.
The sections state that a trade union may, in the prescribed form, request the Minister to issue an order directing an employer of more than five employees belonging to the union to pay dues.
“We have noted the content of the letter and specifically in paragraph three which you have instructed the county governments not to deduct and remit the union dues to the union. While your intention is to frustrate and muzzle, intimidate and kill the union, we are afraid to inform you that your actions are grounded of misinterpretation of section 52 of the Labour Relations Act 2007,” responded Mr Panyako.
The nurses are demanding uniform and nursing service allowances.
Nurses earn Sh20,000 every month in service allowance, which was to be increased to Sh30,000 over three years from 2017. The uniform allowance was raised to Sh10,000.
So far, 13 counties are on strike and 10 more are planning to join in tomorrow. They include Murang'a, Tana River, Nakuru, Siaya, Kakamega, Narok, Makueni, Bomet and Busia.
On Tuesday and Wednesday next week, Uasin Gishu and Isiolo will respectively join the rest in downing their tools.
“We want to urge our members to remain firm and fight for their rights because the Constitution of Kenya under Article 41 provides that every worker has a right to go on strike and that the strike is properly protected,” Mr Panyako
“If there is anything otherwise, we shall advise our members properly; but as far as I am concerned the strike was initiated by our members who are in the counties; it is them who give this union direction; if they say today that we call off the strike we will,” he said.
Mr Panyako maintained that the strike was still on.
“The status quo is maintained. None of our members is at work. We have had a successful peaceful demonstration in Embu County,” said Mr Panyako.
But even as the stakeholders engaged in a flurry of meetings to break the impasse, Labour Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani maintained that the conciliation talks were on and that all the stakeholders are meeting Saturday with a view to coming up with a solution.
“After the meeting, we shall have ten days to run through all the issues and file a report in court,” said Mr Yatani.
He revealed that on Monday both the parties would appear in court to argue their cases.
He, however, maintained that striking nurses who ignored the presidential directive to resume duty tomorrow would be laid off.
“We live in a state in which the rule of law must be obeyed. No one has an option. The parties are in contempt of the court order. They should review and go back to work,” said Mr Yatani, adding that the contentious Collective Bargaining Agreement signed in 2017 was illegal as it did not involve all key stakeholders, making it difficult to implement.