State orders doctors to resume work within 24 hours or face consequences

Striking doctors

Striking doctors in a procession along Uhuru Highway in Nairobi on April 9, 2024.

Photo credit: File| Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Head of Public Service Felix Koskei has urged them to return to the negotiation table in compliance with a court order. 

Striking doctors have 24 hours to call off the strike or face disciplinary action.

Head of Public Service Felix Koskei has asked them to return to the negotiation table in compliance with a court order.

A confidential letter seen by the Nation on April 9 to the Secretary-General of the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union, Davji Atellah instructs doctors to call off the strike before the Whole of Nation Approach Committee convenes.

“Take note that the Committee shall reconvene within 24 hours of KMPDU suspension of the strike ensuring full compliance with the order of the Principal Judge Byram Ongaya, of the Employment and Labour Relations Court of Kenya,” says the letter.

Mr Felix said that the court charged the whole of the Nation Approach Committee with the mandate of resolving the instant long-running dispute in Kenya’s health sector and to achieve a sustainable solution to the ongoing negotiation and conciliation process yet the doctors have refused to call off the strike.

He said the court set the suspension of the industrial action as the condition precedent for the resumption of the Whole of Nation Approach Committee meetings on the health sector.

On April 3, Justice Ongaya ruled that the doctors suspend the strike and ordered that the negotiations be completed within 14 days and that the parties report back to court by April 17.

“The strike notice remains suspended and the Whole of Nation Approach Committee to be completed in the next 14 days and the parties to report back in court,” Justice Ongaya said.

The doctors have indicated that they are not going to be threatened and intimidated to call off the strike.

“We are worried about the suspension and termination letters and withdrawal of paying union dues have to be avoided. When we are calling off the strike, there must be a return to work formula where the most important clause is always that there should be no victimization. We find it a little bit hard to suspend a strike without goodwill from the government,” Dr Dennis Miskellah, KMPDU, Deputy Secretary General said.

He adds: “We cannot call off the strike that will be very reckless on our side adding that some negotiators will not turn up for the negotiations the moment they call off the strike.”

He argued that it is the same court order that the government is dangling to them that ordered that the negotiations be held.

“There is nowhere in the court that stated that if the doctors fail to call off the strike then the negotiations should not continue, we are ready for negotiations and it’s the outcome of the talks that will make us suspend the strike or not. This is not an ego fight but the rights of our members,” Dr Miskellah said.

He said goodwill is earned through previous commitments fulfilled.

“If they have never fulfilled previous commitments they made to doctors, what makes them think that calling off this strike will earn us what we are looking for? We are not being stubborn but acting out of fear and speculation. We just have to be careful so that we don’t leave worse than before the strike started,” he said.

Dr Miskellah said no matter the threats, jailing and even intimidations, it will not change their stand on strike.

“The only way out here is dialogue and we are ready. We are willing to go back to work even as early as yesterday but what is the bare minimum from the government? Doctors are ready to go back to work. Engage and reach a consensus,” he said

On the intimidations, he highlighted that the Ministry of Health published intern information including names and identification numbers which is against the Data Protection Act.

“They will not pick the letters such intimidations will not work with us. If they want they can publish all the details for doctors but that will not scare us,

Even as the two (doctors and government) battle egos and wait on who will blink fast, for 28 days now, patients across the country have been left suffering and dying in silence.

A spot check by the Nation indicated that hospitals are deserted only for a few patients who have been abandoned painting a grim picture in public hospitals.

So dire is the situation that religious leaders have made an urgent appeal to the government to consider engaging the medics who have vowed not to resume duty until their demands for better salaries and conditions of service are met.

President William Ruto, on the other hand, has maintained that the government has no money to increase doctors’ salaries, the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya (CIPK) has underlined the need to consider some of the issues raised by doctors and other medical practitioners.

Governors on the other hand have mentioned that they will not be party to the talks since the doctors are not genuine to strike.

“My doctors in my county have never had a conversation with me, why they have to be on strike because the interns whom they do not even know have not been posted baffles me. It is good to get things right, we could be having wild goose chase in some of these strikes, “Muthomi Njuki, Tharaka Nithi governor said.

Mr Njuki who is also the Council of Governors health committee chair questioned how possible a union can purport to represent people who are not yet employed. Interns are students still being trained.

“These are not your members; they have not been posted. I tend to think, though I do not want to go that route, there is more than meets the eye in this strike especially now that there is a succession move from doctors, clinical officers and lab technicians. We need to dig deeper. I do not believe that doctors are genuine. There is something else beyond,”