How striking health workers got their demand for 500pc pay hike - Beaking Kenya News

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Saturday, 2 January 2021

How striking health workers got their demand for 500pc pay hike


At 11am on Friday, after an hour of negotiations, the Kenya Union of Clinical Officers and the Ministry of Health failed to reach an agreement on how to end a strike that had lasted 26 days.

Then the union officials walked out.

Sources at the meeting that took place at Afya House say a distraught Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe reached out to President Uhuru Kenyatta for help, and the Head of State obliged.

A Zoom meeting with the President was set up and the union officials called in. Fifteen minutes later, the strike was called off.

President Kenyatta is said to have appealed to the healthcare workers to go back to work today, promising that all their demands would be met.

A source who spoke to the Saturday Nation on condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the media said the President was candid and gave them a New Year gift — a 500 per cent raise in risk allowance. That seemed to smooth the way for a return-to-work formula.

“We had failed to reach an agreement and walked out of the meeting when we were called back,” our source said. “When we got in, a call was placed on a speaker and on the other end was the President, and he agreed to take care of our needs.”

With that, the clinical officers agreed to go back to work as more discussions take place, joining doctors who were first to return to work after 19 days out of their stations.

But the news was received with mixed reactions as nurses, who form the bulk of healthcare workers, are still holding their ground, waiting for their demands to be met before they can resume work. Laboratory technicians too, remain on strike.

Nurses are hopeful that a deal will be reached by next week.

Comprehensive medical cover

“We expect that if the government is serious, then we should complete the discussion by next week,” the Kenya National Union of Nurses Secretary-General Seth Panyako told the Saturday Nation.

The clinical officers gave the Health ministry up to the end of February to meet their demands, which include provision of sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE), a comprehensive medical cover, implementation of collective bargaining agreements and promotions.

The union, together with the Health ministry, the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection and the Council of Governors have been having discussions since the strike began early December.

On Friday, Mr Kagwe said the government was committed to ensuring continuity of services without disruption and that the welfare of health workers is taken care of.

“They remain our frontline soldiers in this war against Covid-19. We therefore urge other health workers to follow suit and return to work,” he said.

The Kenya Union of Clinical Officers Secretary-General George Gibore pledged to work hand-in-hand with the ministry “and review the progress of our agreement in line with the attainment of the Universal Health Care”.

The officers have come up with 17 demands that they want the government to meet by February, including the acquisition of PPE, medical cover, group life insurance cover in case of fatalities in line of duty, well equipped health facilities, renewal of contracts, and increase of their risk allowance.

“We will have a monthly report sent to the Ministry of Health to look at the progress of the implementation on our discussions,” said Mr Gibore.

Union chair Peterson Wachira said they are going to form committees from the counties going down to the facility level to ensure that everybody has PPE and they are replenished regularly.

There was relief in public health facilities, a majority of which have gone without services for close to a month amid a crisis occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Crucial services abandoned

Some specialised clinics such as HIV and diabetes that require very crucial services were abandoned, forcing patients to suffer or seek treatment in private facilities.

“It is unfortunate that most of the services had to be put on hold because of the strike,” said Mr Wachira. “Our services come first especially at the outpatient level. In case of a surgery, 98 per cent of the team are also clinical officers.” Public health facilities have been in crisis since the strike began early last month.

On December 15, 2020, eight days into the health workers’ strike, accident victims at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital in Kisumu stayed unattended. 

Other counties such as Kisii and Siaya had most of their facilities closed. In Nyeri, the stalemate was a blessing in disguise for private hospitals because there was a surge in the number of patients since most of the services at public hospitals had stalled.

Kakamega County went ahead to advertise a number of positions for health workers that could agree to work.

Kenyatta National Hospital has been the most affected since most patients from neighbouring counties travel to get services at the facility. 

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