Kenya’s Nurses Strike Over Their Right To Collective Bargaining

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KENYA’S Nurses have vowed to continue with their strike until the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) they signed with the Council of Governors is honoured.

The nurses have been on strike since June 5 after the Council failed to register in court a CBA they signed on May 26. Kenya National Union of Nurses (Knun) secretary-general Seth Panyako said last Saturday that the industrial action has not been put off and that no amount of intimidation would make them falter on their demands.

Panyako said: ‘We would like to tell our members that the strike is still on course and nothing has changed so far. All our members should continue until we get to an agreement with the Council of Governors.’

Panyako blasted the governors for not ‘showing any interest’ in ending the stalemate. High government officials at county level have the key to unlock this stalemate and for them to sit back and say that they are not going to have the issue resolved is making us doubt where we are headed as a nation,’ he said.

Knun deputy secretary-general Maurice Opetu also faulted the government for not being keen on resolving the issue. The nurses’ strike is still on until the CBA is registered in court because it is long overdue. Kenyans are not getting services but it seems nobody is bothered,’ he said.

He accused the national and county governments of not attending meetings focused on finding a solution to the strike. The Ministry of Labour called for a conciliation meeting between the national government, county governments and union of nurses on September 19.

‘We presented ourselves before the conciliator but both the county and national government did not turn up – only for the strike to be termed illegal. This makes it very clear that the government is not keen to solve matters and it shows that somebody should be compromising in order to to stop seeing Kenyans suffer and nurses on strike.’

In addition, Panyako hit out at the latest job evaluation report by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) that placed nurses in Band B3. We oppose the job evaluation report that was released on September 18 as it was misguided and lacked convincing attempts on how it was arrived at. We reject in total the rating putting nurses in Band B3 as it continues to grade nurses as unskilled people yet we should be in B and C.’

He continued: ‘No nurses’ representatives participated in the evaluation and all recommendations by the nurses were not considered.’ The statement was issued following the CoG consultative meeting held in Nairobi on Friday to discuss strikes by the nurses and clinical officers.

The secretary-general dismissed the constant pronouncements by politicians and some governors that the strike is illegal. The Council of Governors threatened that county bosses will sack all nurses who have not resumed duty and will advertise their positions. The CoG described the nurses’ strike as illegal and unprotected.

In a statement issued on Sunday, CoG chairman Josphat Nanok said the Employment and Labour Relations Court declared the nurses’ strike illegal on September 1. He demanded officials of the Kenya National Union of Nurses (Knun) call off the strike immediately and refrain from interfering with the smooth running of health care in Kenya.

The statement was issued following a CoG consultative meeting held in Nairobi last Friday to discuss strikes by the nurses and clinical officers. Those who attended included Health Cabinet Secretary Cleopa Mailu and Principal Secretary Julius Korir; Public Service Commission chairperson Margaret Kobia; Salaries and Remuneration Commission chairperson Sarah Serem and SRC chief executive Anne Gitau; and County Public Service Boards Human Resources Committee chairman Eliud Mureithi.

‘Our consultative meeting reiterated the resolution of the council meeting of August 31, 2017, that all nurses who have not returned to work stand sacked and thereafter, the counties advertise their positions,’ said CoG Chairman Nanok. He claimed that the nurses do not have recognised agreements with the 47 county governments and their strike is, therefore, illegal.

He further said county governments are the only ones mandated to deal with their employees and resolve any dispute. The nurses have been striking for over three months, demanding the implementation of their Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).

At the same time, Knun has faulted the governors’ council for insisting that it will not coordinate the joint signing of the CBA, describing the move as ‘malicious and blackmail’. In a statement, Knun secretary-general Seth Panyako said the council was violating a law that requires it to perform the coordination role.

He called for the council’s abolition, saying it had failed to discharge the core mandate for which it was established. Panyako said Justice Nduma Nderi, in his judgment on petition No. 70 of 2014, expressed the need for a joint negotiation mechanism with the council for all the health employees to have a common CBA across all the counties.

‘Nonetheless, the union has no problem negotiating with the individual county governments to reach a solution to the issues affecting the nurses, including signing of individual CBAs,’ he said. The secretary-general dismissed the constant pronouncements by politicians and some governors that the strike is illegal.

He said judge Nderi ‘pointed out that workers in Kenya have a right to go on strike as provided under article 41(2) (d) of the Constitution and so we call upon nurses to remain calm and not to be tempted to deviate from a war they are about to win’.

He criticised the final job evaluation report released by the SRC on September 18, saying it was misguided. ‘We wish to denounce and totally reject the report, which continues to grade nurses in the band of unskilled employees and say we are no longer bothered with the contents as we will pursue a lasting answer elsewhere very soon,’ he said.