Government now agrees to meet doctors

Doctors' strike

Hundreds of health workers participate in a demonstration in Nairobi on April 9, 2024.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

In a new twist to the doctors' strike, the government appears to have softened its stance and agreed to meet with union officials on Thursday afternoon.

The government's chief of staff and head of the civil service, Felix Koskei, wrote to the secretary-general of the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU), Dr Davji Atellah, on Wednesday evening in reference to a petition filed at the Labour and Industrial Relations Court.

The meeting, dubbed the Whole-of-the-Nation Approach Committee, will be held at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC). This is the second attempt to bring the two parties to the negotiating table after an unsuccessful one on 22 March. 

Reacting to the letter, Dr Atellah told the Nation that he hoped this time there would be a commitment to resolve the issues.

For his part, Dr Dennis Miskellah, deputy secretary-general of the KMPDU, said that doctors don't go on strike for fun and that any effort to get doctors back to their patients is greatly appreciated.

"We are grateful to the court for yesterday's order. It has opened the way for a meeting. We are looking forward to another discussion because as KMPDU we have never left the table, we haven't walked out on anyone and we are happy that they have come back to the table and we are ready to negotiate in good faith.

The court on Wednesday ordered the union to ensure that all hospital emergencies are dealt with, even if the strike continues. 

Judge Byram Ongaya ordered the union and the government to work out a formula for a return to work within the next 30 days.

This comes a day after President Ruto insisted during the National Wage Bill Conference that the government had no money to pay doctors. 

"We can hardly pay because we say there are real problems but there are leaders like the governors who say they support the doctors' strike, if you support them then pay them. We need to stop chasing what is popular, we need to chase what is right," said President Ruto.

President Ruto also hit out at the doctors for making demands that the government cannot meet at this time. 

"It is a tragedy that in the face of economic hardship and fiscal constraints, highly trained professionals are making unreasonable demands at the expense of the legitimate needs of other citizens," he said.

"We must live within our means, it is as simple as that. We have a duty to commit ourselves to a citizen-centred public service paradigm and to improve our contribution to extending the benefits of development to every citizen. Let us be patriotic servants and hardworking professionals," he added.

Responding to the President's speech, Siaya Governor James Orengo said he sympathised with the doctors and that the government's response was disappointing.

"I don't think this should be the case. What the doctors are asking for is not outlandish. They are not things that can make us talk at each other instead of talking with each other," he said.

However, he distanced himself from the views of the Council of Governors (CoG) on the implementation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).

The governor wants the 2017 CBA for doctors to be signed, even if it means implementing it in stages.

His speech contradicts what CoG chairperson Anne Waiguru said on Tuesday that county governments do not have enough money and the implementation of the CBA will mean that some functions will be affected.

Mr Orengo insisted that the issues raised by the doctors were genuine and should not be ignored.

Additional reporting by Kevin Cheruiyot