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Cotu calls strike as State raises workers’ pay by 13 per cent

By | May 2nd 2012

By Luke Anami

On the same day that the Government increased the minimum wage by just over Sh900, the workers’ umbrella body called a strike for May 14 to protest new health insurance rates.

The 13.1 per cent increase raised the minimum wage to Sh8,295.

Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) Secretary General, Mr Francis Atwoli, served Labour and Human Resource minister John Munyes with the two-week strike notice during Labour Day celebrations at Uhuru Park Nairobi.

Atwoli’s action, captured on live on most television stations, caught Munyes by surprise and he was later seen consulting with the chief guest, Vice President and Home Affairs minister Kalonzo Musyoka. The VP later acknowledged that Atwoli’s move was legal and joked that Munyes would no longer deny having been issued with the strike notice as demanded by law.

 Cotu Secretary General Francis Atwoli during Labour Day celebrations at Uhuru Park, Nairobi, on Tuesday [Photo: Collins Kweyu/Standard]

Atwoli said the strike would be to force the National Hospital Insurance Fund to withdraw the new and compulsory rates for deduction by all employers even as the Government and Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE) pleaded for dialogue.

NHIF Chief Executive Richard Kerich was present at the celebrations and sat through the verbal bashing over the new rates.

Mislead Kenyans

Atwoli accused Kerich and unnamed businessmen and politicians of forcing the new rates on employees saying the cash collected could be misused, especially now that elections are around the corner.

"The new NHIF rates needed prior consultations with the social partners, mainly employers and workers and to date, we have not agreed on the rates and in any case the NHIF’s capacity is wanting and cannot manage the new rates while the situation is worsened by the absence of properly equipped facilities," Atwoli said.

But Kerich later defended the new rates and accused Atwoli of misleading Kenyans, saying the least paid workers will part with Sh150 and not Sh2,000 as Atwoli had claimed.

"Under the new rates, the least paid workers will pay even less than what they have been paying, and Atwoli should not mislead Kenyans that the new rates are unaffordable," Kerich said. "Under the new premiums, employees who earn less than Sh6,000 will now part with Sh150 per month in form of contributions to the compulsory scheme, while those who earn more than Sh100,000 will contribute Sh2,000."

Atwoli’s remarks were sparked off by NHIF’s decision to introduce new premiums following the court’s decision to allow it to levy the rates.

He said Kenyans are facing hard economic times and workers have been forced to make to do with budgets that are not commensurate with a salaried person, as deductions alone on one’s payslip leave most workers indebted to their employer.

"From May 14 midnight, all workers shall be on strike. Come the 14th, I will name three businessmen and three politicians who are behind the push for these new rates. I know them!" he said amidst yells of approval from the crowd gathered at Uhuru Park to commemorate this year’s Labour Day.

Solution reached

Cotu has moved to the Court of Appeal to block the new rates.

"We are issuing a strike notice if the new rates are not stopped," said Atwoli, who then served Munyes with the notice amidst ululations from the crowd said.

He said it is a departure from the past where every Kenyan contributed Sh320 irrespective of whether you earn less or more.

According to the NHIF scheme, those earning between Sh6, 000 to Sh29, 999 per month will pay between Sh300 to Sh850 while those with earning gross income of Sh30, 000 to Sh99, 000 will contribute between Sh1, 000 to Sh1, 500 per month.

He, however, said that following VP Kalonzo’s call for dialogue, NHIF would convene a board meeting to discuss the matter before the end of the strike notice period.

"In the spirit of dialogue, we will convene a board meeting to review the matter, and will have a solution before then. I think it is good to give dialogue a chance instead of fighting every now and then," a besieged Kerich said.

Earlier the VP, who represented President Mwai Kibaki at the function, called for consultations and promised to have the date of implementation for the new rates delayed until a solution is reached.

"NHIF is important in as far as aiding the poor workers to pay their medical bills is concerned. It is an issue that should therefore be debated soberly, therefore a solution to this problem cannot always be strike," Musyoka said. "Munyes has been presented with a strike notice and I can bear witness to that. But then it is important that we look at this matter and allow further consultations before we affect them."

"I understand the matter is now before the Court of Appeal. If there is an issue of corruption, we must look into it. I ask Atwoli, Labour minister and FKE that the matter needs to be discussed among tripartite members." FKE Chief Executive Officer Jacqueline Mugo, who made her speech just before Atwoli, sparked off a chorus to stop the new rates, but cautioned against a strike urging Cotu to give dialogue a chance.

"NHIF needs to address issues of governance of the scheme. The Fund should also allow wide consultations with stakeholders before implementing the new rates. However, there is a need to push for dialogue rather than a strike," Ms Mugo said. But Atwoli also accused the NHIF of paying insurance premiums to nonexistent clinics under the Civil Servants Medical Scheme. "There are clinics whose exact location is not known. There is one called "Kisumu-Webuye Road. We have searched and found that there is no such clinic," he said.

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