Mama Rebecca, in her early thirties, died last week at a hospital in Kisumu following complications she developed after giving birth. The family rushed her to hospital after she started bleeding profusely while giving birth at a health centre in Siaya, but she could not be attended to owing to the nurses' strike that began on June 5.
Also hard hit by the strike were victims of police brutality in various parts of the country, especially the former Nyanza province, many of whom sought medication in private hospitals after suffering gun shot wounds at the hands of the police.
There was however some reprieve on Saturday after nurses working at the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital (MTRH) in Eldoret returned to work following an agreement between their union and the hospital's management.
"We have suspended the strike at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital after reaching an agreement with the board of management. "The nurses are back to work," Kenya National Union of Nurses acting secretary-general Michael Opetu said.
This is a sigh of relief to patients from western Kenya who largely depend on the hospital for health services.
"We agreed that the hospital will seek from SRC a no-objection letter to facilitate the implementation of the already agreed items in the CBA within seven days," the return-to-work agreement seen by Sunday Nation reads.
In the letter, the two parties also agreed that the over 1,400 nurses will receive a total of Sh20,000 as uniform allowance annually (being Sh10,000 payable as per the CBA and an additional Sh10,000 payable by the hospital from internal funding).
The allowance shall be payable in the 2017/18 financial Year.
There were fears that the strike might take longer due to a looming shake-up in the Council of Governors following last week's General Election. After former Kisumu Governor Jack Ranguma failed to recapture his seat, the CoG will have to pick a new chairman of the health committee for talks to resume.
As the committee's chairman, Mr Ranguma was crucial in negotiating a return-to-work formula with the nurses union.
The nurses will have to wait longer for all the governors to be sworn in, a special committee constituted and a health chair appointed.
But the CoG Director of Communication, Mr Andrew Teyie, moved to allay fears that fresh talks would resume only after the Council's reconstitution, saying negotiations are ongoing.
"County governments have a negotiation team led by Mr Joseph Tanui as chairman. This is the team that directly negotiates with nurses. It can continue in the absence of the chair of health," Mr Teyie said.
He said on August 2 that the negotiating team met the nurses' top leadership and the CoG offered to withdraw any disciplinary action taken against the nurses, agreeing that no party would be victimised.
The county government also called on nurses to suspend the strike and give room for further negotiations.
"We agreed to pay withheld salaries and allowances for the period they have been on strike and to initiate the appeal on job evaluation and grading of nurses to Salaries and Remuneration Commission. But the nurses are dragging their feet," Mr Teyie said.
He added that the union officials promised to consult members on the offer but they have since not given any feedback.
He said that last week, the Council of Governors wrote a letter to the nurses union to nominate members to work with the County Public Service Boards Human Resources Committee to embark on a job description exercise scheduled to start on August 21.
They are yet to get feedback from the union official.
Mr Opetu, in a phone interview, said they are yet to receive any communication from the Council of Governor's office. He said the only communication they have had was for job evaluation, which they have committed to participate in, and not on the CBA engagement.
"Job evaluation is ongoing with the SRC. We are done with the national government nurses and are embarking on county nurses from next week," Mr Opetu said.
He said the national strike is ongoing until the CBA is signed.
"We are willing to go back to our various hospitals and help. We have had negotiations with governors and President Uhuru Kenyatta and are willing to wait a little longer to resolve the dispute," Mr Opetu explained.
He said they are not to blame for deaths that have occurred during the strike, adding that governors and the national government had ample time to resolve the issue. On December 14, 2016, nurses suspended their strike after they reached a return-to-work formula with governors.
They were given a nursing allowance of between Sh15,000 and Sh20,000. This pushed the signing of the CBA to March 2, but the governors became reluctant to sign, arguing that they did not have the extra Sh40.3 billion needed.
The Salaries and Remuneration Commission and governors have had a back and forth fight on the nurses' issue. The SRC chairperson, Ms Sarah Serem, ruled out a pay increase unless the governors (employers) say they have the money to do so.
Governors, on the other hand, blame the commission for taking time and refusing to approve the nurse's salary increase.
Nurses started the strike to protest what they said was a breach of a collective bargaining agreement that was to be signed by the government on March 2. According to the draft CBA, nurses are demanding monthly allowances amounting to Sh25,400 each. They want a Sh15,400 health risk allowance, a Sh5,000 extraneous allowance and a Sh5,000 responsibility allowance.
They are also pushing for a Sh50,000 uniform allowance, paid annually. According to the Kenya Health Workforce Report, the country has 51,649 registered nurses aged 60 and below, though only 31,896 are active compared with 9,497 doctors, 13,913 clinical officers and 1,066 dentists.
Slightly less than 25,000 of the nurses are taking part in the countrywide strike. Mr Opetu said the Commission and the governors have shown little interest to end the strike.
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