The ministry of Health has thrown its weight behind an application seeking to have the nurses’ strike called off.
Health Principal Secretary Julius Korir — in court papers — said the industrial action by the Kenya National Union of Nurses (Knun) is premature since negotiations on the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) were still going on.
In the papers filed at the Employment and Labour Relations Court, the PS says any action jeopardising conclusion of the case must be discouraged.
Justice Hellen Wasilwa on Wednesday heard that the CBA is being negotiated by the Council of Governors (CoG), County Public Service Boards, Knun and the Ministry of Health.
The Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC), whose advice is being sought by the parties, had on June 9 written a letter advising on the parameters of the CBA negotiations.
“The orders sought, and specifically the one seeking the calling off of the strike by Knun members, are meant to safeguard public interest and avert further suffering by Kenyans as a result of the strike,” said Mr Korir in the court papers.
The application has been filed by Knun national chairman John Biiy, arguing that other union officials called the present strike when negotiations were still going on. He wants the strike declared illegal, adding that it did not follow the due process.
He has sued Seth Panyako (secretary-general), Maurice Opetu (deputy secretary-general), Asha Ali Ido (assistant secretary-general), Joseph Ngwasi (deputy national chairman) and Agnes Munderu (national treasurer). The court directed them to file their papers. The case will be heard on July 11.
Mr Biiy is aggrieved that Mr Panyako had, on June 5 this year, without consultations, committee resolutions or notifying the national chairman, declared a strike by Knun members on the grounds of failure by the Health ministry and the counties to sign a proposed draft CBA.
Knun members initially went on strike on December 5, last year, seeking harmonisation of the CBA. It lasted a few days and, on December 14, a negotiated return-to-work agreement was signed by the officials.
Meanwhile, in Eldoret, patients on Wednesday continued to suffer as nurses clashed with police while attempting to block the entrance to the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital.
The nurses had held demonstrations in town and assembled at the entrance to demand implementation of a CBA they claimed was signed two years ago. Police lobbed teargas canisters to disperse them.
The industrial unrest that entered its 28th day on Wednesday has seen over 3,000 nurses down tools over implementation of the CBA. Contents of the CBA include monetary and non-monetary terms such as administration, increase of salaries and higher pension dues.
Knun chapter chairman Kennedy Orangi said nurses would paralyse medical services at the country’s second largest referral hospital until the CBA is registered in court and implemented.
“We are directing the national government to intervene. This is a very serious issue. Let SRC give out a correct report on job evaluation,” he said.
And in Embu, the county government has started employing nurses on three-month contracts to replace the striking medics.
Governor Martin Wambora, speaking on the sidelines of a forum to distribute free milk to local primary schools, said the strike was beyond them and the SRC should end it.
He said they had started the process of hiring 30 nurses and would increase the number until the situation stabilises. “We are recruiting enrolled and community nurses,” he said.
A spot check indicated that patients were flocking to private and mission hospitals.
Reports by Abiud Ochieng, Dennis Lubanga and Charles Wanyoro