Sunday, September 9, 2012

Industrial unrest due to government’s ineptitude

Sunday Nation 09 September 2012

In the months leading up to a General Election in Kenya, it is not strange to see many unions acting tough with government and calling out their members to strike. This is often because our government is notorious for disregarding agreements reached before polls. Indeed, this appears to be the case with the teachers and doctors who went on strike demanding that the government implements agreements it had signed a long time ago.

This year is even more special because after the next General Election, the country will literally start on a fresh slate, with a new structure of government and probably new faces as well. The probability of agreements signed by the current regime being disregarded is very high. This is the reason most workers are restive and just itching to have a go at the government.

The government, on the other hand, appears to enjoy the circus. At some point they refused to listen to or negotiate with workers citing nonexistent clauses in the new Constitution that allegedly placed this responsibility on the Salaries and Remuneration Commission. Unfortunately for government, union leaders had correctly read the law and pointed out that this commission’s role was advisory as far as remuneration of most state employees was concerned.

Once this became clear, government entered into haphazard negotiations and arrived at agreements that it now claims are difficult to implement. This only serves to expose the government’s ineptitude and lack of co-ordination.

Witnessing this confusion in government one is left wondering what other commitments the government is entering into without adequate preparation, running the risk of mortgaging our future for pointless pursuits. It appears that government is running largely on autopilot, and mushrooming scandals in government seem to suggest this. One would suggest that anyone dealing with government at this point exercises extra caution lest they burn their fingers.

Concerning the teachers’ strike, apparently there was a misunderstanding about what was agreed on, what was implemented and whether there was anything left unimplemented. An honest conversation with the teachers’ union would have provided answers to these questions and prevented the disruption caused by the strike.

The dispute between government and doctors goes to the heart of government’s willingness to fully implement a return-to-work agreement that was signed in December last year after another strike. The government has gone about implementing this agreement and the subsequent taskforce report in piece-meal fashion, picking and choosing who would benefit from it and who would not.

Agreements on healthcare financing, human resource development and expansion, and formation of a Health Service Commission have been ignored. Agreements on payment of fees and allowances for health workers have been selectively implemented. Apparently the government was unaware that the term “doctors in public service” meant doctors in the civil service, parastatals including the referral hospitals, and in the universities and research institutions.

This ignorance and ineptitude are going to be very expensive for government, but the bitter pill must be swallowed and all agreements implemented fully. If any officer was negligent in advising the government, there are channels to deal with that.

Ignoring agreements and contracts will not promote industrial peace, but will only serve to strengthen the resolve of workers to “speak to the government in the only language it understands”.; twitter @LukoyeAtwoli

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