It seems the season of strikes is here with us again! And it is not the usual school boarding house-burning type. This has been taken care of, albeit temporarily, by the August holidays.
It is the industrial action by employed adults that is setting in and it is worrying.
The cost involved every time workers withdraw their labour is in most cases very injurious to the employer. In essence, that is what the withdrawal, commonly referred to as a strike, is aimed at achieving so that the employer can feel the pinch and give in to the demands of the labourer. An industrial strike is simply a blackmail workers employ to force owners of capital into a deal favourable to the former. It is an economic sabotage against an employer the workers consider too mean to improve terms of service.
Now Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) secretary general Wilson Sossion has rang the bell for a strike by his members and every tutor’s belly seems to be boiling for action. University lecturers are also itching for their turn.
But it is the medics strike that I fear most. On Monday and Tuesday this week, I saw signs at Kenyatta National Hospital and I shuddered.
While heroism abounds in championing for fellow workers rights and participating in the self-emancipation from exploitative profiteers, the same cannot accrue if in the process some innocent participants lose. It is more absurd if life is lost as one seeks a better life.
And that could be the reasoning behind guarding against strikes for those working in what is classified as essential services sector.
In most jurisdictions, essential services include sectors such as water supply, telephone, firefighting, prison, the police, air traffic control and probably child care services.
For those working in these sectors, their freedom to participate in labour withdrawal is expected to be a bit restrained due to the obviously dire consequences such a move can have on the communities in which they work. Alternative forms of revolt are always advised in case of disputes involving the workers and their employers. In fact, some countries actually make strikes illegal for workers in such sectors.
That Kenya’s Constitution gives every worker, regardless of the sector, the right to participate in industrial action including withdrawing labour is a noble fact. It is one of the reasons the document is considered one of the most progressive constitutions in the world. The progressiveness is, however, premised on the assumption that our national populace is mature enough to know when to hold on and when to run, what is wrong and what is right.
And this brings me to the sector I consider more essential than all the other essential ones: the health sector.
LIFE AFTER DEATH
The heath sector rightly occupies that apex position above others for obvious reasons, the major most being the fact that it deals directly with life, right from conception. It is in both literal and figurative sense a life and death sector whose importance in human survival cannot be overemphasised. For this, it follows that anyone working in the health sector should know from the onset that they are in in a reverent position, a cut above the rest of us. It is because of this that from the most elementary levels of education, those wishing to join the medical profession are expected to work harder, behave better and think differently from the rest. It is a field which requires superhuman attributes.
At the labour level, therefore, those in the health sector should ideally hold themselves higher than the Pope. The Church and Mosque should rank slightly lower than Medicine as far as the hierarchy of nobility is concerned for whereas the former two essentially deal with an uncertain life after death, the latter is in charge of life, the real life.
That is why nurses, clinical officers, hospital cleaners and doctors should reconsider their right to withdraw labour in times of labour disputes. Withdrawal of labour by these workers actually means withdrawal of life from a sick person and, as we all know, life once withdrawn cannot be returned!
It is this sad reality that should inform future decisions by registrars in teaching hospitals when one of them is suspended for alleged negligence. It is why doctors should never go on strike and instead utilise alternative dispute resolution mechanisms.
This will cement the near-god status the rest of us hold daktaris in.
Mr Cherambos is a social commentator in Nairobi; E-mail: [email protected]