Shakespeare the grand Master of Literature had a heroine named Juliet. She was a sight for sore eyes and as young love would have it, she loved Romeo of the Montague family. This family were sworn rivals and foes to her own. She is seen to be dismissing that underlying fact when she lovingly asks Romeo her beloved, ‘’what is in a name? A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet…” Not written in this iconic play are the words that a bin by any other name would stink as bad.
That is the dilemma Kenyan nurses find themselves stuck in. The mystery of a name. A name that has time and again failed to serve its end or purpose. The struggle for sanity and direction; a relentless quotidian fight since the birth of modern nursing. The name of Kenya National Union of Nurses (KNUN). Seemingly, it is meant to represent nurses under the labor laws of the world. That has mutated into personal vendettas and micro dramas.
Having interacted with the nursing system of United Kingdom, I can authoritatively compare and say that the nursing education system in Kenya prepares the student to be an international nurse. The only drawback in Kenya would be resources. Not for the lack of trying but because those resources find better pockets to go to if the scandalous corruption exposes are anything to go by. It therefore follows that these bespoke Kenyan nurses should get remuneration commensurate with their skills.
That is theory. And just like a paper tiger, it is still paper. KNUN is subscribed to by thousands of nurses in Kenya that want better. This better is in the form of fair pay for work, improved terms of employment, harmonised risk allowances amongst a host of other things. That is what the Kenyan nurse would want his or her union to focus on.
Sadly, what has happened is a shift of focus and direction. A cyclic battle of press releases and strike threats that nobody can participate in. The betrayal of nurses by the union that should be at the forefront fighting for them as they fight COVID-19. From forgotten collective bargaining agreement of a few years ago to the numerous court battles and decrepit tricks to halt elections, nurses have been left with a sour aftertaste. When the national leadership speaks, majority of nurses do not feel represented.
Which brings us to the core of the matter; what is in a name? Nurses must be awake to the reality that is glaring down on them. The current union needs change. Change may not come from within the union. That change must come from nurses themselves. We cannot keep talking about unity of purpose while there is no uniformity of vision. When leaders blatantly ask you what you would have them do if they were not leaders of the union, when leaders become political mouthpieces to throw words at either the ruling government or the opposition, then our goose is not only cooked but burnt.
There is a bad smell coming from the union ship of nurses and it has wafted to the noses of the employers and other cadres. Just like sharks, they have sensed blood and they are coming for the kill. That is why an employer today has the temerity to advertise nursing jobs at contractual terms. That is why at KNH, Locum nurses are not guaranteed of permanency. That is why counties feel empowered to employ nurses at an aggregate gross pay of Kes.50,000. They insult you and ask you to be grateful.
We need to understand that employers will do everything in their power to cut costs. Whether private or public, an employer’s aim is to maximize production and minimize cost. That fellow nurses, is Economics 101. We may scream and shout ‘Haki Yetu’ but until we are woke to this basic operation of businesses, we are not entitled to anything.
That is why we get unionised. We cannot afford to individually approach our employers. We need a robust union to speak on our behalf. That voice however gets lost in the din of inhouse wrangles and outright political misstatements. You need credibility and the union of the day keeps shooting herself in the foot as far as credibility goes.
I asked a few members what would be so difficult in starting afresh. Many exhibit signs of fear of the unknown. They genuinely want the union to work but they feel the only way that can happen is a call for unity. Fair enough, no house stood divided. However, the union of the day does not need anyone for it to disintegrate. It has been doing that all by itself and it has done an immaculate job. Nurses must rethink what they really want in their own union. I will not be surprised to see Kenyan nurses treated as children of a lesser, disinterested god five years from today if nothing changes.
Catherine Maina is a KRCHN, KRRN, UKRN/ BScN in progress and she works under NHS in the United Kingdom. She runs a blog www.catemimi.com. Her love for writing drove her to start the blog where she talks about a host of health-related matters in layman’s language. Interact with her on Cate Mimi on Facebook, @catemimi1772 on Twitter and email her at firstname.lastname@example.org