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Nurses demand Sh3b in fresh employment push

 Clinical officers and nurses demonstrate in Eldoret town, Uasin Gishu County in December 2020. [Christopher Kipsang, Standard]

Nurses are demanding more than Sh3 billion in a fresh employment push against the Ministry of Health and counties.

This comes as it emerges that at least 2,500 contracts issued to nurses who were hired in 2020 will lapse next month. 

In their case filed before the Employment and Labour Relations Court (ELRC), the nurses claim that the national and county governments have failed to honour their end of the bargain.

Through the Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN) they sued the Ministry of Health and the Public Service Commission.

They also named the Council of Governors and the National Treasury as interested parties.

KNUN claimed that in 2020 at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Health through the PSC hired 2,500 nurses on three-year contracts. The court heard that those with diplomas were given Sh50,000 salary while certificate holders earn Sh40,000.

KNUN’s industrial relations officer Kibet Kirui told Justice Stella Ruto that the government extended the contracts after realising that a mass exit would cripple the health sector.

“On the verge of lapse of these contracts, it was noted with concern that the exit of the crucial mass would adversely affect the access to medical care and thus need for structured consultations and consensus with the respondents and interested parties,” said Kibet.

He said the then Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua on May 9, 2022, wrote a letter to the Ministry and the counties requiring them to hire the 2500 nurses on permanent and pensionable terms.

Consequently, the ministry wrote to the counties and requested them to nominate individuals to a panel that would look into the transition of the nurses under contracts.

Kibet said that the contracts of the affected nurses lapsed in June last year. However, they were extended by a further one-year term.

He told the court that this was meant to give room for stakeholder consultations.

“Through a letter dated May 17, 2023, the second respondent (PSC) gave the justification for the one-year extension of these nurses contracts as an interim measure pending consultations on conversion of the term of service,” he claimed.

On April 2, 2024, Kibet said that a multi-agency task force indicated that it was no longer tenable to have all health workers who were absorbed during Covid-19 retained under contracts.

He told the court that the task force was of the view that it would be illegal and against labour rights to continue with the current arrangement.

Justice Ruto heard that the task force recommended that those with diplomas should be placed under group J/GH/CSG 12 and certificates in job group J/G G/CSG 13.

At the same time, the union representative said that the task force also recommended that the National Treasury should allocate Sh3.5 billion for the exercise.

However, he said that the Cabinet Secretary Susan Nakhumicha-led ministry disowned the agency’s resolutions on April 22, 2024.

Kibet said that the ministry claimed that it was not aware of its own request to the PSC to have all health workers who were hired in 2020 under contracts to be absorbed by the respective county governments.

He told the court that Nakhumicha on May 3, 2024, told the Senate that she intended to extend the contracts by a further two years.

Kibet accused the CS of defying all the communications and resolutions made by her ministry, PSC and the multi-agency taskforce.

KNUN’s officer alleged that the CS is simply buying time in order for the budget cycle to lapse before the implementation happens.

The court heard that Nakhumicha’s submissions were contradicting Senate Standing Committee on Labour and Social Welfare directive requiring the task force to finalise modalities of the contracts being transitioned to permanent terms within six months.

The Senate’s directive, the court heard was on June 17, 2023.

“The claimant members are disturbed and demotivated by these developments as they had legitimate expectations that they would be absorbed on permanent and pensionable terms and their remuneration be improved to be equal with their peers whom they work with under same conditions but earn differently,” said Kibet.

The case will be mentioned on May 14.

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