Striking nurses at Kenyatta National Hospital had their way after the management yesterday allowed them to join the Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN).
The medical workers went on strike on Monday demanding to be allowed to join the union, which is the largest nurses’ representative in the country.
KNUN secretary-general Seth Panyako, who stormed the hospital on Monday, was arrested and charged with incitement the next day.
Previously, nurses at the country’s largest referral facility were members of the Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotels, Educational and Hospital Workers (Kudheiha).
Acting chief executive, Dr Thomas Mutie, clarified that the hospital’s management is not opposed to nurses joining a union of their choice.
“The management has no intention to stop the nurses from joining a union of their choice or refusing to recognise any union, including KNUN since this is a constitutional right. However, parties must follow due process as stipulated in the law,” he said.
He, however, insisted that nurses wishing to join KNUN must first renounce their membership of any other union by formally resigning.
Dr Mutie said the hospital could not deduct the membership dues of more than one union for a nurse, adding that anyone wishing to join KNUN must follow the right channel.
“Those wishing to join another union must present acknowledged and approved resignation letters. We have held meetings with the nursing representatives and they have promised to follow the due process to facilitate recognition within the shortest time possible,” he said.
Among the grievances the striking nurses listed was the casual manner in which the hospital had handled the case of Mildred Akinyi, who was attacked by enraged relatives of a patient who died while undergoing treatment at the hospital.
He said the hospital had agreed to pay the full medical bill of Ms Akinyi. “Mildred Akinyi has been paid all her dues. The management has also taken full responsibility of all medical expenses amounting to Sh598,000 incurred by Ms Akinyi during her hospitalisation and will further meet the cost of post-discharge follow-up visits at the clinics,” said Dr Mutie.
He further said the management had provided and facilitated for the prosecution of the assailants. He reassured staff and visitors that security had been beefed up through the addition of police officers and guards.
While Dr Mutie was quick to state that nurses involved in picketing at the facility would not be victimised, he was emphatic that those arrested on Wednesday were picketing “outside the hospital in defiance of instructions by the police”.
The victory has not been secured without a fight. On Wednesday, Kudheiha's secretary-general Albert Njeru accused Mr Panyako of “playing politics” with the KNH nurses in a bid to destabilise the union.
“We wish to remind the KNUN secretary-general that he was once a member and also the chief shop steward in this union, which he now refers to as a domestic workers’ union. We, therefore wonder, is it now that he has realised the union does not represent nurses?” he posed.
Mr Njeru said the KNUN official’s attempt to get the nurses’ membership to the union recognised “had flopped at the courts” following a decision by Lady Justice Maureen Onyango in 2016 that ordered the union to desist from inciting nurses and interfering with essential services at the facility”.