KMPDU downplays Sakaja's threats to sack striking doctors in Nairobi

The Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Dentists Union members led by Secretary-General Davji Atela (centre).

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

The Kenya Medical Practitioners and Pharmacists Union (KMPDU) has said that doctors will not be intimidated by Nairobi Governor Johnson Sakaja's threats to sack striking doctors working for the Nairobi County government.

In a response, KMPDU secretary-general Dr Davji Atellah said the governor is aware that all doctors in Nairobi County are owed seven years of basic salary arrears, and that the best move would be to pay all the arrears into each doctor's bank account rather than threatening them.

"Doctors working in Nairobi County cannot go back until their arrears are paid or a return to work formula is agreed. Doctors are people who can never be threatened, they are people who are professional enough not to work on threats. Threatening them is like activating them. It will not work, it is like threatening them with a dead snake. It cannot do anything," said Dr Atellah.

On Wednesday last week, Governor Sakaja gave the doctors a 12-day ultimatum to return to work, saying he would not allow patients' lives to be put at risk over an issue that could be resolved gradually.

He also announced that doctors who had not reported for work by Thursday morning would be considered no longer interested in working for the county.

“I have given the doctors of Nairobi 12 hours to show up in our hospitals. Those who want to continue working in the county of Nairobi you have 12 hours to show up in our hospitals because the mandate that I have is to ensure that I provide healthcare to the people of Nairobi,” said Sakaja

“Nairobi doctors, you have insurance, your salaries are [aid on time, why are you rioting because of a different employer? On Thursday, I told them that if they are interested in serving Nairobians, they should report to work. on Friday, I had 60 per cent of them returning to work. we have taken note of the remaining 40 per cent, and we would like for them to let us know if they are still interested in working. if they don’t, then we will employ other doctors who are looking for jobs,” added Sakaja.

But Dr Atellah insisted that doctors in Nairobi County were owed seven years' basic salary arrears, which the government was aware of but had refused to pay despite promising to do so about a year ago.

Which never happened

"None of these doctors have been paid their arrears of basic salaries. The governor promised that this would be done 60 days from January 4, 2023, which never happened.  When he said that the KMPDU was not constitutional, he had not bothered to understand what a trade union movement is. In reality, he has no power whatsoever to stop any doctor from going on strike because it is a constitutional right to participate in the activities of a trade union," said Dr Atellah.

"The 2023 strike was based on the salary areas that had not been implemented. We had an agreement that it would be done in two months from January 4, 2023.  He knew that. None of the issues that we had tabled have been implemented, except for the medical insurance that he got for the Nairobi doctors. The rest is still pending. The main issue was also the implementation of the CBA, which should be done by both the national and county governments," said Dr Atellah.

In his argument, Mr Sakaja said the national government's failure to fully implement the 2017 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) signed with the doctors and its delay in deploying medical interns should not affect the county government's activities, and therefore the doctors should not be out of work.

“When you look at the main issues, they are not caused by Nairobi and are not the main issues. We have allowed our doctors to hold a meeting early morning but as their employer, I have implored upon them that you cannot be on strike for issues of another employer,” he said.

“I want to implore upon our KMPDU, Nairobi branch that there are different ways to show solidarity with the national branch that has issues with the national government without jeopardising or putting in line the lives of Nairobi, whose government you have no issues worth going to strike on,” he said.

The doctors went on strike on March 6, complaining that the government had failed to honour its promise to employ doctors and provide a training budget for eligible 2018 postgraduate medical students.

They also complained that county governments had been reluctant to allow doctors eligible for postgraduate training to undertake further education.

Dr Atellah said the county governments had also failed to promote eligible doctors, delayed their salaries several times and failed to remit their statutory deductions and loan repayments.

The doctors also demanded the immediate posting of medical interns, whose posting has been delayed for eight months.