Nurses will resume work Friday after signing an agreement with governors and the government, ending a five-month strike that dealt the country’s health system one of its biggest blows in a long time.
In the agreement signed at the offices of the Council of Governors (CoG) in Nairobi, the three parties agreed to have the nurses’ uniform and the risk allowances paid in the next financial year.
The over 20,000 nurses will receive in initial uniform allowance of Sh15,000, which will be increased by Sh5,000 each financial year. This allowance has been increased from the Sh10,000 they have been receiving.
Further, the nurses will also start receiving a risk allowance of between Sh20,000 and Sh25,000, depending on job group, in the next financial year.
Council of Governors chairman Josphat Nanok said the parties have also agreed that the risk allowances will be increased to Sh30,000 in the 2020/2021 financial year.
Nurses first took to the streets on December 5, 2016, the same time as doctors, who ended their work boycott after 100 days.
They then signed a return-to-work formula with governors after being offered a nursing allowance of between Sh15,000 and Sh20,000, to be implemented in two tranches, 60 per cent beginning January and the rest from July.
Two months later, nurses and the ministry as well as the CoG began negotiations on the CBA, which became the genesis of the just-ended strike.
On June 5, barely six months after calling off a nationwide strike, the Kenya National Union of Nurses (Knun) leaders asked their members to boycott work until such a time when the two levels of government would agree to sign and implement the CBA that will cost taxpayers up to Sh7.8 billion annually..
But Thursday, Knun Secretary-General Seth Panyako said the agreement also resolved to have the CBA concluded, signed and registered with the Industrial Court within 30 days.
“This is the best we could do as a union and I am asking nurses to resume work latest 5pm today,” said Mr Panyako.
“Over 85 per cent of Kenyans living below the poverty line cannot afford the expensive private healthcare, and therefore we call off the strike.”
All disciplinary cases initiated against nurses during the strike will be withdrawn and withheld salaries remitted by the end of this month, and not later than December 31.
Already, Vihiga County had advertised vacancies for 191 nurses to replace some of the 600 health workers who were on strike.
Nurses to be employed on contract were to be paid Sh50,000, Sh20,000 less than what is paid to those on permanent and pensionable terms.
In Kajiado, Governor Joseph ole Lenku had just employed 100 new nurses. Ten of the nurses were to work at the county referral hospital while the rest were to be deployed in other facilities.
The Employment and Industrial Court in Nyeri had also stopped governors Ndiritu Muriithi (Laikipia), Alfred Mutua (Machakos), Granton Samboja (Taita-Taveta) and Mwangi Wairia (Murang’a) from recruiting new nurses to fill 1,458 positions.
Justice Byram Ongaya also cancelled advertisements placed in the media two weeks ago by the respective county governments inviting applicants for the sacked nurses’ positions.
Health Cabinet Secretary Cleopa Mailu said the additional nursing and uniform allowances will not be factored in the current financial year.
To curb future strikes, Dr Mailu said the government will start engaging the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) in advance to ensure issues of salary increase and allowances are dealt with early enough.
“It is a moment of joy, but also sadness, because what has happened in the last five months has never happened in the health sector before. We now hope to see the tail-end of this,” he said.
In the agreement, it was also resolved that all cases related to the industrial action be withdrawn by the respective parties that are the petitioners. Only the case on the grading structures for nurses — Petition Number 1998 of 2017 — will not be withdrawn.
Maternity, surgeries and inpatient services were among those that were crippled when the nurses boycotted duty, making this year one that endured the worst public health crisis in Kenya’s history.
The year started with a continuing doctors’ strike that paralysed activities in most public hospitals and. After this was resolved, nurses and other health workers also started a series of work boycotts.
In Mombasa, relatives of patients battling mental illness welcomed the decision to end the boycott.
Port Reitz is the only public mental health hospital in the coastal region serving patients from Kilifi, Kwale, Tana River, Taita-Taveta, Lamu and Mombasa counties.
Additional reporting by Joseph Wangui, Winnie Atieno, Joseph Ngunjiri and Derick Luvega