Nurses Friday bowed to pressure from the national and county governments and called off their countrywide strike, bringing hope to thousands of patients in public hospitals.
Announcing the truce, the Kenya National Union of Nurses secretary general Seth Panyako directed the nurses to report to work immediately in compliance with a court order suspending the strike for 60 days to allow negotiations.
He urged the medics to respect the order and await the conclusion of the negotiations.
“There is no way we could serve the counties with a court order that was non-existent. I received the order on Thursday and I have sent it to the striking counties to call off the strike. We are the greatest consumers of the court in Kenya and therefore it will be foolhardy for us to imagine that we can fight the court. We cannot fight the Judiciary when it has stood with us. We must respect the rule of law” he said.
The order requires that all nurses report to their working stations by Friday to avoid contempt of court proceedings.
Nurses had been under pressure to call off the strike with President Uhuru Kenyatta last week warning that punitive action would be taken against those who failed to resume work.
And in a letter released on Wednesday, the Interior ministry directed all county commissioners to submit daily reports of nurses who had reported to work in their areas.
“The report must include names of facilities affected, the number of nurses participating in the strike and actions taken by your office to ensure that delivery of services to patients at all health facilities in your areas is not interrupted. The ministry should receive reports daily latest 2:00pm,” said the letter signed by Nairobi Regional Commissioner William Kang’ethe Thuku for the Principal Secretary.
The truce comes only two days after the Controller of Budget Agnes Odhiambo instructed Migori, Machakos, Mombasa and Kwale counties to recover new allowances already paid to nurses.
Mrs Agnes Odhiambo had written to the counties asking them to comply with the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) circular on nurses’ service allowances.
“County governments should not pay any allowances that are not approved by SRC,” the circular stated.
The commission had earlier said that counties need about Sh3.5 billion every year to pay nurses’ service and uniform allowances, an amount it maintained was not sustainable.
SRC chairperson Lyn Mengich said the governors and the Treasury had confirmed they did not have money to pay the nurses.
“We have received confirmation from ten counties that indeed they have a budget, which is an estimate of what they expect from the Treasury,” she said.
Ms Mengich said even if funding was available, sustainability was a key factor in the long term, adding that no county should pay the sought allowances using public funds.
The letter from Mrs Odhiambo said the SRC had not reviewed the nurses' benefits and that any changes without the authority of the commission would be illegal.
“The office is aware that counties are paying enhanced allowances to nurses contrary to those approved by SRC. Payment of allowances without SRC advice is contrary to the law. "Therefore, the purpose of this letter is to request that you do not pay any allowances to the nurses until approval is granted by SRC,” she says.
The Health ministry and governors had also threatened to take disciplinary action against nurses who defied the court and presidential orders to resume duty.
In a joint statement on Tuesday, they said nurses who would be dismissed for failure to resume work would not be rehired either by the national government or by counties.
Health Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki and Council of Governors Chairman Wycliffe Oparanya said they would ensure the sacked nurses do not resume work.
“It is hereby reiterated that the defiant nurses at both levels of government will face disciplinary action in accordance with existing government regulations,” the statement said.
To mitigate the impact of the strike, the two levels of government had resorted to stop gap measures, including hiring nurses on contract to ensure continued services.
“In the medium term we need to amend laws to provide recruitment of medical personnel on the contract during emergencies,” the statement adds.
The striking nurses are demanding uniform and nursing service allowances, which they say they were promised.
Nurses earn a monthly service allowance of Sh20,000, which they want increased to Sh30,000 over three years from 2017.