New twist in health workers standoff as hundreds fired

Thursday, January 7th, 2021 00:00 |
Clinical officers and nurses take part in a protest in Mombasa over remuneration disputes recently. Photo/PD/FILE

The standoff between health workers and county government took an ugly turn yesterday after governors Anyang’ Nyong’o (Kisumu) and Hassan Joho (Mombasa) made good their threats and sacked about 500 medics.

In separate instances the two governors said the striking health workers led by Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) National Secretary General Dr Chibanzi Mwachonda had been relieved off their duties for absconding duty.

In a letter signed by Mombasa County public service board secretary and CEO Jeizan Faruk and copied to health executive, County Secretary Job Tumbo and county chief officer indicated Mwachonda and 86 senior medical specialists has been dismissed from service by Mombasa County Public service board for declining to resume duties.

“Following the correspondences shared between the department of health and the county public service board on the doctors strike, the board pursuant to section 59 (1) (c) of the county government act number 17 of 2012, herby conveys its decision vide special board meeting held on January 5 that all the doctors who have refused to return to work be dismissed from County services…” the letter stated.

According to Faruk, the doctors’ refusal to return to work are justifiable grounds for their dismissal as espoused under section 44(4) (a), (c) and (e) of the employment act 2007.

Return property

“We have enclosed their letters and advance copies have been shared to the said doctors via email.

Kindly ensure the above doctors received their letters and immediately hand over all the properties belonging to county government to their supervisors.

Update us on the progress of the dissemination of the letters, handover and staff return for each of the facilities,” the letter further read.

But Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Union (KMPDU) Coast branch secretary, Dr Abidan Mwachi, said the letters were mere threats.

“In fact we have only seen 86 letters… we are waiting for 112 more letters. We are asking them to bring the letters tomorrow very early in the morning,” he said.

And in Kisumu, the county government moved to stop the salary of its 428 nurses. 

Through the Communication’s Office, the County said that the notice issued on January 5 stated that upon expiry of a return to work circular, some nursing officers whose names were appended had not reported, prompting the Ag. Chief Officer in charge of health to take a number of actions including a show cause letter why they should not be sacked; the officers whose names were attached locked out immediately from accessing government facilities.

However, the County Government has refuted the claims in a rejoinder dismissing the media reports as misleading.

“They were also informed that all nurses mentioned who wish to resume work will have their names withdrawn from the payroll with immediate effect,” said Atieno Otieno, the County Communications Director.

Governor Anyang’ Nyong’o’s administration also issued ‘a lock-out order’ for the nurses.

The health workers were also issued with a seven days show cause why they should not been sacked.

The County Chief Officer for health Gregory Ganda said they have removed some of the health workers who did not work from the payroll already.

“The county cannot pay salary to workers who have deserted their work without any valid reasons, and that all their grievances and demands were already responded to,” Ganda said in a letter seen by People Daily as doctors in Mombasa County vowed to go on with their strike despite receiving sacking threats from their employer.

Government property

Ganda further confirmed that the workers have been locked out from accessing the hospital facilities and also ordered to return all government property in their possession to the administration of respective facilities.

The action by the two governors came on the day Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader, Raila Odinga appealed to the two levels of government to resolve the biting health crisis occasioned by the nurses’ strike and, now, the impending industrial action by clinical officers.

 “Kenyans must not be kept permanently on the edge and worried over matters that can be sorted out without much drama through intergovernmental discussions that the public need not know about,” Said Raila

While condemning the health workers for abandoning their duties at the hour of need, the ODM leader however, noted that it is important that Return to Work Formulas (RTWFs), be respected and implemented once agreed on by employers and employees.

“Otherwise if this does not happen, the government loses capacity and authority to negotiate in future,” he added even as the Kisumu County Government stopped salaries for more than 400 nurses and the Council of Governors (CoG) terming demands for high pay by the country’s medical personnel unrealistic.

On Tuesday, clinical officers gave CoG 48 hours to implement a RTWF signed between them and the national government on New Year. The ultimatum announced by Kenya Union of Clinical Officers (KUCO) lapses today.

But yesterday, Raila expressed shock that it is barely one week since the deal was agreed upon, and the clinical officers were threatening to resume the strike.

The strike threat also comes at a time two counties; Nyamira and Migori have had their health systems paralysed by doctors ’strike that is hardly talked about and is running into two months now.

“This is therefore a time we need all our health workers on duty or on standby, not on strike or being tossed around between the two levels of government,” he added as Labour Principal Secretary, Peter Tum said that government to government negotiations on one hand, are at an advanced stage and on the other, a dialogue with clinical officers is yielding positive ground.

In another development, the chairman of the Labour Committee at the CoG, James Ongwae termed demands for high pay by the country’s medical personnel as unrealistic.

Ongwae said in an interview with a local radio station that it is regrettable that doctors and other medical personnel have threatened to down tools while the economy is in shambles.

“We are dealing with facts. We need to accept the current realities of the pandemic. Economies have collapsed worldwide. Our doctors are some of the professional cadres we pay well,” said Ongwae.

The Kisii Governor however, said he supports strikes that are related to working conditions because of the risk workers face.

He said the highest paid health worker in job group ‘S’ took home each month a total of Sh363,000 in salaries and allowances, while a nurse in Job group  ‘K’ was paid a salary and allowances to the tune of Sh118,000 compared to an engineer or architect who takes home an estimated Sh64,000.

“We have not received resources in the last three months. I have been forced to go to banks for over drafts to pay staff of my county,” he said.

Nurses went on strike on December 7, 2020 demanding comprehensive health insurance, free treatment for Covid-19, improved risk allowances, provision of Personal Protective Equipment, promotions, designations, payment of arrears and creation of a national health services commission to deal with employment. - Reported by George Kebaso, Robert Ochoro, Noven Owiti, and Monica Kagia

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