Thousands of health workers in Kenya’s Taita-Taveta county, including nurses, lab technicians, dentists and pharmacists, went on strike on Monday. They are demanding the payment of arrears from as long ago as 2014.
On Tuesday, health workers in the Nairobi county also struck work, affecting another 83 healthcare facilities there. The county government has threatened to sack these workers.
The striking workers are represented by the Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN), Kenya Union of Clinical Officers, Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU), Kenya County Government Workers Union, Kenya Health Professional Society and Kenya Union of Laboratory Technicians.
The deputy governor of Taita-Taveta county, Majala Mlagui, and Nairobi’s acting health county executive, Vesca Kagongo, said the strike action is a violation of the agreement reached between government and the unions. Following that agreement, a strike that was initiated in September was called off and the medics returned to work on October 1.
The unions, however, maintain that as per this agreement, all the arrears had to be paid by November 10, failing which they have the right to resume the strike from the next day.
The communications officer of the KNUN, Richard Nyambu, clarified that the previous strike was only temporarily suspended in order to give time for the government to honor the commitment it had made.
“Scores of workers,” he said, “have been re-designated or promoted but they are yet to receive their arrears for the upgrade since 2014. The memorandum of understanding we signed with the county administration has not been implemented and that is why we have gone back on strike”.
While the Taita-Taveta county did allot a budget of Sh60 million ($587,936) to address the financial grievances of the health workers, the government has not paid the arrears in full as it had promised.
Only Sh29 million ($284169) of salary arrears has been paid so far, while another Sh19 million ($186,179) remain unpaid, Standard Media reported. According to Nyambu, casual workers had not been paid for the past 16 months, and the government – which owes them a total of Sh5 million ($48,994) in wages – had threatened to fire them when they demanded their dues.
Further, the government has also failed to remit, as per the agreement, the deductions made from the workers’ salaries to the National Hospital Insurance Fund, the National Social Security Fund and other insurance premiums
Nyambu insisted that, as per the agreement they had reached before resuming work on October 1, the employer had to “pay the accumulated statutory deductions in full and not in piecemeal as is being done now.”
The health workers in Nairobi, on the other hand, are complaining that unlike their colleagues in other counties, they have not received the promotions that were due to them.
Kenya Broadcasting Corporation reported that Kagongo, Nairobi county’s acting health executive, has assured that work is underway to promote more than 2,000 workers in consultation with the Kenya Union of Clinical Officers and the Kenyan Union of Nurses.
A budget of Sh130 million ($1,273,861) has been allotted to address their financial grievances. However, payments and promotions have not been made as yet, and the distressed workers are losing patience.