Governors have asked the Salaries and Remuneration Commission to approve nurses’ salary increase before they can effect it.
The governors claimed their hands were tied since it was the commission’s work to approve the raise.
Kisumu Governor Jack Ranguma, who is the chairman of the Council of Governors' Health Committee, said they had agreed with the Kenya National Union of Nurses that approval must first be sought.
The nurses reached an agreement with the council last December.
“I really sympathise with the nurses because they deserve better pay but we, as governors, cannot give them the money unless it is approved by SRC, the only body with the authority and responsibility of setting salary limits for public workers,” Mr Ranguma said.
He said governors would face audit questions if they went against the rule.
“We have to pay exactly as directed by SRC but, if they refuse, we have no choice,” he said.
The governor asked nurses to go back to work as negotiations continue. The governors had presented a draft proposal of Sh40.3 billion to the SRC, but the commission's chairperson Sarah Serem said her team was being used as a scapegoat.
She said in February, the SRC advised the council on the collective bargaining agreement process and provided a framework for negotiations, she said.
Doctors have since joined nurses in their call to governors to end the strike. Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union secretary-general Ouma Oluga said: “We cannot perform all the work done by nurses, who are the backbone of the health system”.
According to the Kenya Health Workforce Report, the country has 51,649 registered nurses aged 60 and below, though only 31,896 are active, compared with 9,497 doctors, 13,913 clinical officers and 1,066 dentists.
Slightly less than 25,000 nurses are taking part in the strike. The nurse-patient ratio in Kenya is at 83:10,000, way below the 25:10,000 ratio recommended by the World Health Organisation.
Mr Ranguma said: “We are ready to end the strike. We are requesting the nurses to go back to work as we deal with the remaining talks”.
On Wednesday, striking nurses carried an effigy of Ms Serem as they demonstrated in the streets of Kisii town. Led by the Kenya National Union of Nurses’ deputy secretary-general Eric Rioba, the nurses vowed not to return to work until their CBA is signed.
“We are determined to down tools until our promised CBA is signed. There can be no retreat or compromise as long as our grievances are ignored,” Mr Rioba said.
He accused the SRC chairperson of being insensitive to the plight of nurses, whom he termed “essential pillars of the healthcare delivery system”.
Most health facilities in Kisii remained paralysed as the strike entered its 31st day.
At Kisii Teaching and Referral Hospital, for instance, most patients have been discharged, owing to the strike.