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Oversight of the law to blame for nurses strike

Health & Science
 Nurses demonstrate over pay during a past strike in Nairobi. [File/Standard]

An oversight by the Council of Governors (CoG) while signing a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with the nurses’ union has returned to haunt counties following the caregivers’ strike that has left patients hapless.

Failure by the council to take into consideration the role played by the Commission on Revenue Allocation (CRA) is now standing in the way of a deal with striking health workers in about 20 counties.

The commission has written to the CoG, warning it against executing salary increments over lack of mandate to do so.

Pledged to meet demands

Although some counties had pledged to meet demands of nurses, this was dealt a blow last week when CRA and the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) weighed in with advisories against wage increments.

In an advisory to the CoG and the Ministry of Health, CRA asserted that the mandate of setting salaries and allowances for public servants was its preserve and “any entity making any payments not approved by CRA will be committing an illegality.”

In the letter dated February 6 and addressed to the CoG and the Union of Nurses, CRA said the pay hike demands by nurses would push up the public wage bill by an ‘unsustainable’ Sh6 billion annually and set in motion a spiral of higher salary agitations, upsetting the annual budget.

The commission further said nurses were the highest paid government officers in comparable job groups.

And as the standoff persists hundreds of patients in Kisumu and Homa Bay continue to suffer after more than 1500 nurses defied calls to resume work.

Governors Anyang’ Nyong’o (Kisumu) and Cyprian Awiti (Homa Bay) had asked nurses to end the strike.

During a press briefing in his office on Friday Prof Nyong’o directed nurses to report back to their stations by 4pm or face unspecified consequences.

This call however fell flat even after the governor met officials of the nurses union in the county. The same was the case in Homa Bay. Outpatient services were however offered by clinical officers, laboratory technicians and doctors.

“The Government set up a conciliation process and went to court to seek a stay on the execution of the strike until the (60 day) conciliation process is completed and the nurses were therefore asked by the court to suspend the strike,” said Nyong’o.

Services affected at the county hospitals level included surgeries, maternity and maternal and child healthcare services.

Closed for two days

Kisumu County hospital, the largest county level referral facility was closed for two days this week. Patients, including those admitted after surgery were forced to seek medicare in private facilities or home care.

Yesterday, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital Chief Executive Officer Peter Okoth said they were only responding to emergency cases in the outpatient wing and complicated admissions.

The main referral hospital in Nyanza has 80 contracted nurses serving more than 10 units.

A spot check revealed that one nurse was attending to more than 15 patients at the facility as the effects of the strike became apparent.

Critically ill patients admitted to Kisumu County hospital have since left to seek treatment in private facilities. Only three women said to be mentally ill and who had young babies were still under the care of ununiformed nurses at the male surgical ward.

In Homa Bay, the caregivers rejected the county government’s return to work formula.

Kenya National Union of Nurses Homa Bay branch Executive Secretary George Bola and Trustee Lilian Ogutu said the medics are striking over delayed salaries.

The two officials said the County Executive for Health Richard Muga Muga urged them to return to work and promised to address their grievances.

But the medics rejected the proposal on grounds that they needed their pay. “We just got our December salaries last week. Today the CEC for health is telling us to resume work so that we get our January salary at a later date in February but we have declined the request,” said Mr Bola.

Apart from delayed salaries, the medics complained of withholding salaries of 55 nurses’ for ten months.

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