Public healthcare strikes continue in Kenya as workers demand their rights

Doctors and nurses at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi have downed tools. Meanwhile, the strike by medics in Embu county’s government hospitals was called off after the government committed to a timeline to address their grievances

September 29, 2020 by Peoples Dispatch
Doctors, nurses and other workers at Nairobi’s Kenyatta National Hospital began an indefinite strike on September 28 (Photo: Social media).

Protests by health workers over a wide range of issues related to working conditions continue in Kenya. On Monday, September 28, doctors and nurses at the Kenyatta National Hospital, one of Kenya’s oldest hospitals, located in Nairobi, downed tools. Meanwhile, medics in Embu county returned to work on the same day after a prolonged strike that started on September 9.

The decision to end the strike in Embu county was taken on September 25 after the signing of a return to work agreement. The county government has committed to pay the pending salaries and COVID-19 allowances of the workers, and to process the outstanding promotions within two months. 

The government has also promised to not victimize the union leaders who led the strike, and to “unconditionally stop all intimidations and any disciplinary processes, and (to) withdraw all show cause letters, dismissal letters and any other.. punishment emanating from this industrial action.”

The agreement was signed by the county government and the unions, including the Kenya Union of Clinical Officers, Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN), Kenya National Union of Medical Laboratory Officers, Kenya Union of Nutritionists and Dieticians and the Kenya Health Professional Society.

Around 2,400 workers represented by these unions – including doctors, nurses, pharmacists, technicians and others – had embarked on the strike action after serving a 21 days notice on August 19. 

The workers had not been paid their salaries since the month of June. According to the agreement, the county government has promised to regularly pay the salaries “by 28th every month effective from October 2020.” The agreement further states that “arrears for the month of July and August.. (will) be paid upon disbursement of funds by the National Government.”

The striking medics had also complained that a total of Sh400 million (USD 3.69 million) worth of deductions from their salaries for the National Hospital Insurance Fund and other banking institutions have not been remitted to them. The county government has promised to remit these deductions along with the October salary. 

Another major grievance raised by the medics was that their promotions have not been processed for almost 10 years. The government has now promised that the pending promotions will be facilitated within two months. The agreement also stipulates that salaries of unskilled contracted workers will be raised to meet the minimum wage within 90 days.

The signatories to the agreement agreed to “constitute a 10-member implementation committee comprised of employer and union representatives to fast track the return to work agreement.” The returning of these medics to work from Monday is a major relief to patients, who were left in lurch as public hospitals in Embu county were paralyzed due to the strike.  

However, just as the medics in Embu returned to work, doctors, nurses and other workers downed tools in Nairobi’s Kenyatta National Hospital, which is one of the country’s oldest and largest public hospitals.   

Representing these workers, the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU), the KNUN and the Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotels, Educational Institutions, Hospitals and Allied Workers (KUDHEIHA) had given a one-week strike notice on September 21.

Their demand is the implementation of the 2012 salary review, according to which, all the 7,000 employees of this hospital were to have their wages revised upwards. However, only the CEO’s salary was revised in 2012, while the rest were ignored. 

KNUN secretary general Seth Panyako claimed that the “KNH management is ready to increase salaries because the money is there. Parliament approved the review; National Treasury released 601 million shillings to KNH for implementation.” However, the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) has not yet written the concurrence letter, as a result of which, the implementation of their wage hike has been stalled.

“We are tired of them asking us to give those 21 days. Does writing a concurrence letter take 21 days? We will not be intimidated and neither will we go back to work until we are told our money is in the bank,” KNUN’s branch chairperson, Linus Osenye said.