Kenya is facing a nationwide strike by health workers, which has paralysed operations in government hospitals. A majority of Kenyans who depend on government health services have been denied the essential service.
The court’s declaration of the strike as illegal and an order for health workers to resume duty has not done anything to resolve the crisis.
Although the current strike largely involves the implementation of devolution of health services, there are more legal and policy issues involved. Strikes have not just affected the public sector but also the private sector. You will recall that doctors and nurses were on strike last year while teachers also downed their tools earlier in the year.
Civil servants are threatening to go on strike in the ne w year as a result of the proposed government retrenchment. Truth be told, Kenya needs urgent reforms. The bottom line is that when labour relations hinder the delivery of essential services like health, the government must be moved to action.
The strengthening of the union movement in Kenya is founded on Article 41 of the Constitution. Employees are entitled to fair labour practices including fair remuneration, working conditions and membership to a trade union.
The article provides that every employee has a right to fair labour practices. The Constitution now specifically recognises the right to strike and employees are within law to go on strike.
However of importance is whether strikes are the only mode of collective bargaining that will move employers to action. Are strikes good for the economy and service delivery? Why are employees constantly resulting to strikes?
Does this demonstrate a failure to embrace alternative forms of dispute resolution including negotiations, mediation and conciliation? The answers lie in total reform of the policy and legal regime on employment matters. Here is how it can be done.
Kenya’s labour industry can only be regularised if Kenya adopts a pragmatic decision that will transform the labour industry. The establishment of a task force to align the labour industry with the Constitution should be a top priority by government. The task force should be mandated to rethink labour relations in the public and private sector.
The task force should propose an overhaul of the labour laws. The policy should be used to formulate new labour laws and have a short-term implementation committee will see a change in labour relations in the country and achieve stability towards attainment of the development goals set out in the Vision 2030 blueprint.
The writer is an advocate of the High Court.