The standoff between nurses and county governments persisted Tuesday with reports of at least six deaths in Mombasa as patients went un-attended.
The fresh strike by nurses was caused by a disagreement over payment of allowances that if implemented will cost taxpayers Sh40.3 billion every year.
The Council of Governors (CoG) had on Monday said that the “mind-boggling” amount was the only reason counties were yet to sign an amended collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with nurses.
Nurses from a number of counties, including Mombasa, Samburu, Homa Bay, Kisii, Nyamira, Migori, Vihiga, Busia and Kakamega, downed their tools starting Sunday midnight demanding the unpaid allowances.
CoG chairman Josphat Nanok said that only the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) approval of the proposed budget could make them sign the CBA with the nurses’ union.
“Once the SRC makes a pronouncement on the matter, county governments will go ahead and sign the CBA with the nurses’ union,” said Mr Nanok.
Doctors and nurses went on strike for months towards the end of last year up to mid-March, paralysing public health facilities.
“We ask our colleagues who are members of the nurses’ union to resume their duties to ensure that Kenyans continue to access health services,” added Mr Nanok.
The nurses strike comes even as the doctors’ amended CBA is yet to be signed and registered in court, over 60 days since the signing of a return-to-work agreement with government.
The government has been paying Sh10 billion in salaries and allowances for the roughly 5,000 doctors in practice. The new medical risk and doctors’ allowance is now costing taxpayers Sh3.2 billion more annually.
The nurses had entered an agreement with the national government and CoG in March to end their strike in anticipation of better pay and job promotions.
The nurses’ return-to-work agreement provided that the 47 county governments would sign recognition agreements and subsequently sign the CBA with Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN) within 50 days.
It also stipulated for “other pending issues to be handled during the harmonisation of the draft CBA” whose negotiations started in January and have now ended, according to CoG.
Nurses make up the largest health workforce (more than 50 per cent) in the country by virtue of their responsibility. There are slightly over 54,000 nurses in practice.
KNUN acting secretary- general Maurice Opetu said all their members are currently not working and they will stay away from work until the government grants them their dues. KNUN has over 45,000 members across the country.
“CoG has been playing games with us and we (nurses) are now taking the games to their doorstep – we are ready to fight,” said Mr Opetu.
Mr Nanok, however, maintained that both the national and county governments are following due process to ensure that the CBA is signed and free of legal challenges in the registration process.
“The draft CBA as is has huge financial implications as the Sh40.366 billion new proposed nurses’ allowance is over and above what was approved in the return to work formula, which is Sh3.4 billion for every financial year,” he said.
SRC secretary Anne Gitau said in a memo on Monday that; “the Commission is constrained to issue a “no objection letter” since the nurses’ draft CBA as submitted has not adhered to the Commission’s advisory”.