In Summary
  • And with the State and labour unions appearing to pull vigorously in opposite directions, experts say the country is pushing itself to an economic disaster.
  • Should the government yield to demands by the country’s 5,000 doctors, it will have to cough up an additional Sh5.4 billion, on top of the Sh2.6 billion it pays them annually.
  • The Treasury says it will be careless to please all the trade unions.

The wave of strikes across the public sector in recent months has left the Jubilee administration struggling to cope as all the solutions have economic and political ramifications that could affect its fortunes in the upcoming elections.

With the polls just 189 days away, the government is already dealing with a biting drought, a near economic slow-down, allegations of corruption, a weakening shilling and a stock market decline.

A striking country is the last thing the Jubilee administration needs at this time when it is seeking re-election on August 8.

But what began as a downing of tools by doctors and nurses demanding higher pay last month is threatening to snowball into a major crisis as often happens when elections approach, with union after union threatening to go on strike or asking members to stop working all together.

Today, the doctors’ strike entered its 56th day, while the lecturers’ strike is on day 13.

And, from tomorrow (Monday), students from all public universities might begin the mass action they threatened last week if the government does not end the lecturers’ strike by the end of today.

Worse, the Kenya Union of Clinical Officers is also yet to effect its seven-day strike notice which expired last Tuesday.

It is believed they could down tools any time if their demand for promotions, better pay and improved allowances is not met.

If clinical officers and public university students make good their threats, the government will have in its hands a paralysis in two critical sectors of the economy, adding to an already overloaded tray of problems.


And with the State and labour unions appearing to pull vigorously in opposite directions, experts say the country is pushing itself to an economic disaster.

“When a union calls for a strike, apart from its members lowering their productivity during this period, other government employees, even though not on strike, adopt a wait-and-see attitude which negatively impacts total output of the economy,” says Dr Samuel Nyandemo of the University of Nairobi’s School of Economics.

“Remember, trade unions have realised that this is the most opportune time to be heard by the government because we are approaching the election; so I don’t think anyone will back down,” he says.

Hospitals are already paralysed, patients are dying and others are being forced to sell their property to afford expensive treatment in private hospitals.

And there is no learning in public universities, all because of demands for better pay.

But unlike the private sector where employment and wages are determined by profits, the number of people employed by the government and their earnings depends on two key factors.

These are the ability of a particular ministry to compete for higher budgetary allocations, and the power of trade unions.

Because the government has to perform a delicate balancing act to make sure everyone is somewhat happy, it has to make both political and economic decisions when faced with industrial action like now.

The Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) says the government has failed.

“I don’t know who is advising the government on labour. Labour in any country is the key to economic growth and no country can spur itself to growth without using its manpower properly,” says Secretary-General Francis Atwoli.

He adds: “Any negotiation between an employee and an employer is always in good faith. But with things the way they are now, there is a vacuum of leadership somewhere.”

President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto have largely given the industrial action a hands-off approach, leaving the situation to be handled by their cabinet secretaries and the courts, but with little success.

All the striking unions want full implementation of their various collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) with the government before their members go back to work.

This is how the government got nurses to return to work last month after the Ministry of Health and the Kenya National Union of Nurses signed a Sh7 billion agreement that will see nurses receive allowances of between Sh15,000 and Sh20,000, depending on their job groups.

An identical overture to doctors by President Kenyatta two weeks ago — offering them Sh4 billion instead of the Sh8 billion they are demanding — failed, leading to the current standoff despite the courts ordering the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists' Union to call off the strike.

Similarly, a court order issued days to the strike by university employees was obeyed only by the Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotels, Educational Institutions, Hospitals and Allied Workers Union (Kudheiha).

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