Kenya says sacks 25,000 striking health workers

Thu Mar 8, 2012 10:30am EST

* Striking health workers want higher allowances

* Workers say dismissal a ploy to get them back to work

* Industrial action part of a series as inflation bites

By James Macharia

NAIROBI, March 8 (Reuters) - Kenya's government said on Thursday it had sacked 25,000 public health workers after they refused to end their week-long stoppage over pay.

Unemployed or retired health workers in the east African country were asked to report to their nearest health facility on Friday morning to be interviewed for the vacant posts, a government spokesman said.

The striking health workers' union said the government was trying to blackmail them and they would not back down from their demands for higher allowances.

The protest is the latest in a string of strikes to grip Kenya in the past year after consumer prices soared, fanning widespread discontent.

"We are ignoring the sacking threat," Alex Orina, spokesman of the 40,000-strong Kenya Health Professionals Society, said.

"These are cat-and-mouse games, you cannot sack an entire workforce. It is a ploy to get us to rush back to work, but our strike continues until our demands are met," Orina told Reuters.

Doctors, university lecturers, primary school teachers and employees of the state broadcaster have also taken strike action. The government said the health workers were acting unethically.

"Twenty five thousand of these officers (health workers) have by this morning been deleted from the payroll. Letters of dismissal are ready and are being issued," government spokesman Alfred Mutua told reporters.

"The government has taken this firm action to alleviate further suffering of innocent Kenyans."

"CAT-AND-MOUSE GAMES"

Mutua said some of the striking health workers had returned to work after being ordered to do so by the government, and those workers would not be dismissed.

Last week the government threatened to sack striking workers at the state broadcaster, but offered better conditions after meeting the workers.

Frustration has been mounting in Kenya at the high cost of food and fuel, in particular. The government will be keen for the rate of inflation to maintain its downward trend ahead of a general election expected by March next year at the latest.

Kenya's inflation rate slowed for the third consecutive month to 16.7 percent in February, after reaching 20 percent in November.

Orina said, on average, a health worker earns about 25,000 shillings ($300) a month in salary and allowances, and this amount was likely to double if their demand for higher allowances were met.

Private hospitals and clinics, where richer families send their sick, have opened as usual because their nurses are not members of the strikers' union.

($1 = 82.7500 Kenyan shillings) (Additional reporing by Humphrey Malalo; Editing by David Clarke and Robert Woodward)