Nurses shrug off Uhuru directive as strike bites across counties

President Uhuru Kenyatta.
A presidential directive issued on Wednesday to striking nurses to resume work by Friday was ignored as most of them stayed away from their workstations, taking the industrial action into its 11th day.

Addressing a press conference yesterday, Labour Cabinet secretary Ukur Yattani said that conciliatory committee meetings between the nurses’ union and county governments were underway. He added that the committee was set to meet with the Salaries and Remunerations Commission (SRC) and later with the Ministry of Health.

“The matter that will come before court on Monday is on contempt, but the order that was given by the court on February 5 ordering the officials of the Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN) to cease hostilities and go back to work has been ignored,” he said during a press conference. The CS appealed to the nurses to obey the rule of law.

In Trans Nzoia County, services in public health institutions were paralysed as nurses stayed way. Local Members of the County Assembly (MCAs) urged governors to dialogue with the striking nurses to facilitate resumption of duties and end patients' suffering.

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The 503 nurses in the county vowed not to resume duty until their demand for allowances is granted, and accused governors of misleading the president to order them to resume work.

“We are not going to be intimidated to resume work until our demands are met,” said a nurse who declined to be named.

MCAs led by Daniel Kaburu and Lawrence Mukosu, asked the President to order governors to initiate talks with the striking nurses.

The situation in Kisumu was not different, with a majority of the 800 striking nurses keeping off their work stations. Last week, Governor Anyang' Nyong’o and the health executive Rose Obara said that although they had set aside Sh32 million for a proposed salary hike, their hands were tied by law.

The governor claimed it would be illegal to effect the pay against the advice of SRC that is against any proposed wage hike. The county administration and security agencies had deployed uniformed police in health facilities to provide protection for nurses who were willing to work.

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Yesterday, the nurses' union officials, led by Kisumu secretary-general Maurice Opetu and chair Florence Ambani, said they will only resume work after signing a return-to-work formula.

KNUN secretary-general Seth Panyako however dismissed Mr Yatani’s appeal, insisting the strike would continue as planned. The 2017 CBA provided for a 50 per cent increase in service allowance earned by nurses from the current Sh20,000 to Sh30,000. The CBA also provided for a Sh15,000 uniform allowance.

However, in Kitui, nurses have resumed Duty. The County’s KNUN secretary Newton Kimanzi said they called off the strike after the County Public Services Board secured a court injunction barring them from participating in the strike.

The County Government Health Chief Officer Richard Muthoka said services in hospitals, health centres and dispensaries in the eight sub-counties have resumed.

The strike started on Monday last week. The nurses are demanding better uniform and nursing service allowances as per the return-to-work formula of November 2, 2017.

On Wednesday, President Uhuru ordered the nurses to report to work or face dismissal by the counties and the Health ministry.

“As the Commander-in-Chief, I have instructed the National Police Service to take stern action against picketers who might harass public servants who wish to go to work,” the President said.

Council of Governors chairman and Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya said both levels of government will undertake a roll call at 8am today.

Central Organisation of Trade Unions (COTU) secretary-general Francis Atwoli had earlier said the involvement of the President in the ongoing strike was a blot in the country’s history of resolving industrial disputes. “You did not have to suck the President into the matter to make comments about this issue. It was a small matter that could be handled by the Labour Commissioner and CS,’’ he said. 

[Osinde Obare, Paul Mutua and Kepher Otieno]

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Ukur YattaniSalaries and Remunerations CommissionNurses StrikePresident Uhuru KenyattaKNUNSeth Panyako