NAIROBI, KENYA: Confusion surrounding the employment of medical staff under the national government’s Economic Stimulus Programme (ESP) by the county governments could paralyse operations of health institutions countrywide.
Most counties have not absorbed the workers who were employed on contract with a promise of permanent jobs on expiry of the contact. The doctors and nurses were employed to plug the deficit in hospitals and their withdrawal of services could cripple operations and leave wananchi suffering.
In Embu County, hundreds of health workers at the Embu Level Five General Hospital yesterday boycotted work to protest delayed salaries and unlawful extension of contracts of ESP nurses.
Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN) Embu Branch Secretary General Joseph Ngwaci said more than 100 employees working under the ESP have not received their salaries for the last three months. “The workers will completely withdraw their services in all the health facilities in Embu if their plight will not be addressed in the next seven days. Most of the health workers are demoralised due to the way promotions are handled, with discrimination and intimidation through unwarranted transfers,” he said.
The workers who issued a seven-day strike notice also lamented that some of them were being intimidated by county officers and others punished through transfers.
And in Uasin Gishu County, the fate of medical staff hired under the ESP is unclear after some nurses said they had received sacking letters. Several nurses have complained to KNUN, saying they have received letters terminating their services on grounds that their contracts expired in June.
KNUN Secretary General in Uasin Gishu John Bii confirmed that he had been shown copies of termination letters by 45 of their union members who also revealed they are already pursuing the matter in court.
“The nurses who have received termination letters refused to sign the contract extension letters in line with our advice. They have not been paid and they are on the verge of losing their jobs,” said Bii.
He disclosed that they advised the nurses not to sign contract extension letters offered by the county because it was against the agreement reached between KNUN and the national government during their deployment.
KNUN’s national office has filed a suit in the Industrial Court in Nairobi to reverse the move by the county government which will be mentioned on October 13. However, Bii revealed they will have a strike on September 3 to seek payment of their union members.
However, Uasin Gishu Governor Jackson Mandago dismissed claims that the ESP nurses had been sacked by the county, saying the health personnel refused to sign contract forms. “The procedure is standard and it’s surprising that the health workers refused to sign continuation letters,” he said.
The governor said health workers should follow the County Public Service Board regulations and apply for jobs like other people and if uncomfortable to work in Uasin Gishu, they have the liberty to seek jobs in other areas.
The situation in Nandi is similar, with the ESP employees’ situation hanging in the balance since they have not been offered the permanent and pensionable employment proposal despite their contracts expiring two months ago. Mark Cheruiyot, the KNUN Secretary General in Nandi told The Standard that the county has not offered permanent employment since their union members refused to sign the contract extension terms. “The county has received two letters from the Ministry of Health, in January and June this year to have the ESP personnel employed on permanent basis but this has not been achieved,” he said.
Cheruiyot said he is surprised how the ESP health staff members continue to offer services to the public yet their contracts have expired and are not on permanent employment, saying they have been subjected to job insecurity.
In Meru, talks between the nurses’ union and the county government hit a deadlock. The 199 nurses who were engaged under ESP turned down a one-year extension, insisting the Government must offer them permanent and pensionable employment.
But Health Executive Committee Dr William Muraah said the ministry is not able to make such a commitment because the county assembly has allocated insufficient funds for the docket. A meeting attended by the nurses, union officials and Dr Muraah at the Meru Level 5 Hospital, ended in disarray when the two parties could not reach an agreement. “I cannot promise to employ or increase your salaries because the MCAs have not allocated enough funds for that. We have made a document requesting the county assembly to have a supplementary budget so that we can address the issue,” he said. The nurses also turned down a one year contract extension, saying it does not meet their minimum expectations and demands.
In Kisumu, health workers have vowed that they will continue on a go-slow until their salaries are paid. And out of 154 health workers who were recruited under ESP, 44 are yet to have their contracts renewed after they expired in May this year.
Following the expiry of contracts, the health workers are yet to receive their salaries starting from May.
They appealed to the county government to consider renewing their contracts or permanently absorb them, saying staying away from work is causing suffering among the workers and patients. “We have tried to raise the issue with the County Public Service Board and we are yet to get a formal feedback,’’ said Morris Odhiambo, the Secretary General of Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union Kisumu County Branch. The workers challenged the national government to take over running of health services in the counties.
In Kakamega, the employment on permanent and pensionable terms of ESP nurses could be further delayed by a court case. The county government has demanded that the nurses undergo a suitability test before they are absorbed. But KNUN Secretary General Seth Panyako has moved to court to challenge the conditional clause, demanding that the nurses be absorbed directly.
—Reports by Michael Ollinga, Silah Koskei, Joseph Muchiri, Kennedy Okwach, Hezron Ochiel and Phares Mutembei - The Standard