Doctors and nurses will today begin a nationwide strike after talks called by the Health ministry collapsed last evening.
In a press conference last night, Health Cabinet Secretary Cleopa Mailu said the ministry was scheduled to meet union officials at 5:30pm yesterday but the officials did not show up.
Mr Mailu said the strike notice by Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN) and Kenya Medical Practitioners and Pharmacists Union (KMPDU) was premature as the 90 days a court had given medics and the State to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement had not yet elapsed.
The Health ministry, Treasury, Council of Governors and the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) had a day-long meeting yesterday over the impening strike. In the meeting, SRC boss Sarah Serem presented a review of the salary scale for health workers, which Treasury said it can implement but over time.
The Health ministry was to present this review to the unions at the 5:30pm meeting but officials did not show up. Mailu said the officials may have been holed up in another meeting.
He said the ministry was willing to negotiate and pleaded with health workers to report to work today to prevent a health crisis that may lead to loss of lives. Earlier, health workers warned Kenyans to prepare for the longest strike in history.
Even as the unions are expected to meet a team selected by Labour Cabinet Secretary Phyllis Kandie at 2:30pm at the ministry’s offices, the unions have maintained that until their demands are met, they will not go back to work.
“We issued a strike notice of 21 days back in November 12. You mean the whole time the labour CS did not see this as a crisis only to convene a meeting on the day of the strike? What is her work then exactly?” posed KNUN General Secretary Seth Panyako. According to an email from Ms Kandie’s office, the issue to be discussed is the signing of the contentious collective bargaining agreement (CBA).
“To facilitate settlement of the dispute, I have arranged to meet all the parties in the Principal Secretary’s board room 7th floor Block A NSSF Building on Monday December 5 at 2:30 pm,” reads the mail signed L.R Kirigua who is the conciliator.
Recognising the crisis in the health sector, Kandie said she was upbeat that today’s talks would bear fruit and pleaded with unions to give dialogue a chance.
“Dialogue has been ongoing and we hope as a ministry that considering some of the matters in contention are in court, I call upon all parties to give dialogue a chance,” she said.
But KMPDU Secretary General Ouma Olunga on Saturday said though they would attend the meeting as required, the strike would still be on.
“Kenyans should not expect any emergency services in hospitals including Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH). We have been patient since 2013 when we signed the negotiated CBA after three years but we are yet to benefit from it,” Mr Olunga said.
Services will also be paralysed right from Afya House to the country’s spinal injury hospital in Nairobi. Also, Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, Mathare Mental Hospital and all hospitals under the county governments will be a no-service zone.
Others include all national blood banks, facilities at ports of entry among them Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and Moi International Airport. “All workers must participate as they will also benefit when the CBA is signed,” Mr Panyako said.
On Saturday, relatives of patients in public facilities were advised to transfer them, with health workers given directives to discharge them by yesterday.
According to demands by KMPDU, doctors want a 300 per cent salary increment as the CBA signed in 2013 stipulates. This should see the lowest paid doctor pocket Sh342,000 and the highest pocket slightly over Sh940,000 away from the current remuneration of Sh500,000 for the highest paid and Sh40,000 for the lowest paid.