Clinical officers in Kenya returned to work after their union reached an agreement with the government on Friday, January 1, ending the 26 day-long strike which had paralyzed public healthcare across the country since December 7.
The 17-point return to work agreement that was signed between the Kenya Union of Clinical Officers (KUCO) and the health ministry addresses the key demands raised by these workers.
The government has committed to provide all members with comprehensive health insurance. In its absence, health workers who had contracted COVID-19 were unable to afford the expenses of their own treatment.
“All our members can get medication once hospitalized because of complications emanating from Covid-19 infection,” KUCO general secretary, George Gibore, said at a press conference after the signing of the agreement.
Due to shortage of beds in public hospitals, many healthcare workers have been unable to get admitted. Gibore said that the union and the government have agreed to work on allocating well-equipped healthcare facilities dedicated to its members who contract COVID-19.
Conversion of contracted health workers into permanent staff was among the original demands. A compromise was reached on this issue with the government committing instead to renew the contracts and extend medical cover and other benefits to those who have been employed on contractual terms for more than a year.
“For those who are (employed for) less than one year, the (health) ministry is going to consult with the treasury and NHIF (National Health Insurance Fund) to ensure that they can be (also) covered well,” Gibore said.
He added that a “group life insurance is also provided for the purpose of compensation if in.. case anyone succumbs to the condition.” At least 10 clinical officers have succumbed so far, in addition to 26 nurses and 30 doctors.
Doctors, who had also downed tools starting from December 21, had already called off the strike on December 24, after the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) reached a return to work agreement.
Nurses, who had also downed tools on December 7 along with clinical officers, have continued with the labor action. However, there has been considerable progress in the negotiations between the government and the Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN).
The union had said in a statement on December 31, “Based on today’s meeting with the Government side, we are glad to report that all the issues raised in our strike have been agreed upon except one critical element.”
Without specifying the issue, KNUN added: “The one pertinent issue is now delaying the signing of the Return to Work Agreement. We request the members to remain patient as we wait for the Government to give a time frame when this one issue is going to be agreed on so as to pave way for signing of the Agreement.”
After another meeting between the union leaders and the chairperson of the Council of County Governors (CoG) on January 2, the KNUN has expressed optimism. There is a likelihood of the nurses also reaching an agreement after the next meeting scheduled for Monday.
Kenya has a total of 96,614 cases with 1,685 deaths being reported.