Doctors stay defiant, term State’s offer contemptuous

Davji Atellah

Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Dentists Union Secretary-General Davji Atellah addresses journalists at RFUEA Grounds in Nairobi on April 2, 2024.

Photo credit: Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Labour Court on Wednesday directed the doctors to suspend the strike.
  • The court also ordered that the negotiations be completed within 14 days.

Doctors have defied calls to return to work and dismissed as inconsequential the government’s move to release Sh2.4 billion for the deployment of interns.

They said they will also defy a court order requiring them to go back to work. The doctors have maintained that unless the government comprehensively addresses their grievances, they will not report to work.

The Employment and Labour Relations Court on Wednesday directed the doctors to suspend the strike and give negotiations a chance.

Justice Byram Ongaya ordered that the negotiations be completed within 14 days and that the parties report back in court by April 17.

“The strike notice remains suspended and the national approach is to be completed in the next 14 days,” Justice Ongaya said.

He also ordered that the Council of Governors (CoG) compile and file in court the staffing gaps in hospitals to facilitate the provision of minimum services.

When the matter came up for mention, the Ministry of Health, represented by lawyer Mmene Eredi, requested for more time to conclude the talks and file a formal report on the progress made and the steps taken to meet the doctors’ demands.

Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH), which filed the case challenging the strike, told the court that it does not have the luxury of two weeks as people are losing their lives.

In a rejoinder, the Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU), represented by Edgar Washika, said they cannot provide minimum services if they don't know the number of employees in the hospitals.

He said the doctor-to-patient ratio is skewed and on a typical day, there are no minimum services because of understaffing.

The union also asked the court to compel all relevant parties to appear in the talks.

They said only the ministry, KNH, and Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital officials were present in the meetings they have had so far. But the CoG defended itself, saying it has participated fully in the negotiations.

KMPDU Secretary-General Davji Atellah said the money that the government claimed to have released for doctor interns was meant for all the medical interns.

“This was impunity of the highest order; you cannot purport to have released Sh2.4 billion for the intern doctors yet you have reduced their salaries by 91 per cent. We will not entertain this,” Dr Davji said.

Head of Public Service Felix Koskei had earlier announced the release of Sh2.4 billion.

“On the part of the national government, the following actions have been taken in fulfilment of its obligations: Facilitated the payment of basic salary arrears accrued by the National Government/entities arising from the 2017-2021 CBA. Secured the necessary budgetary support of Sh2.4 billion to facilitate the immediate deployment and posting of the 2023/24 cohort of junior doctors in accordance with the guidelines issued by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC),” he said.

But Dr Ateela countered: “For them to be paid as per the SRC, it means they have gone against the 2017 court order which ordered the implementation of the collective bargaining agreement.

"They are in contempt. Ideally, the budget to cover all medical interns was Sh4.8 billion and they have reduced the salaries by half.” 

“They have thwarted the court orders and violated the CBA and showed disgust and contempt to us by not respecting the court orders. We have sued them of contempt,” he added.

According to the SRC, intern doctors should be paid between Sh47,000 and Sh70,000, while nursing officer interns (degree) and clinical officer interns (degree) should get between Sh35,000 and Sh50,000. Clinical officer interns (diploma) should be paid between Sh27, 000 and Sh35,000.

KMPDU also lamented the reluctance of the Health Ministry and CoG to absorb its members on permanent and pensionable terms.

Dr Dennis Miskellah, KMPDU’s deputy secretary-general, said governors should stop harassing doctors. 

“Unless they have some money somewhere they’re going to use to pay doctors, or employ them from their market collections ... but as long as long as our salaries are being paid by the exchequer, they should stop threatening us,” he said.