Talks collapse as doctors' strike enters day five

Doctors Strike

Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union Secretary General Davji Atellah addressing journalists at the Union's headquarters along Kindaruma Lane in Nairobi on March 18,2024 where they maintained that their strike was still on until their demands are met.

Photo credit: EVANS HABIL| Nation

What you need to know:

  • Health Cabinet Secretary Susan Nakhumicha said they had a "fruitful discussion."
  • Dr Abidan Mwachi, the KMPDU's National Chairperson said the talks were not fruitful as the minister and that doctors will continue their industrial action.

Talks between the government and doctors failed to bear fruit Monday as the strike by the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists, and Dentists Union (KMPDU) entered day five.

The court on Friday directed the two parties to have a settlement to alleviate suffering of thousands of patients across the country.

Health Cabinet Secretary Susan Nakhumicha said they had a "fruitful discussion."

Among the issues discussed, said CS Nakhumicah, is the implementation of the 2017 collective bargaining agreement, which has lapsed.

"We have agreed that the ministry will proceed with the negotiations. The status is that they (doctors) had written to the Ministry of Health, and the ministry had written back to them with a counteroffer. But both parties were yet to sit at a table. We have agreed that within this week, the ministry will call for a meeting so that matters within the CBA can be addressed and negotiations can continue," said CS Nakhumicha. 

The CS also explained that the two parties had also discussed and reached an agreement on posting medical interns who have been waiting for their posting for eight months now into internship institutions. 

According to the CS, the two parties had agreed that doctors would "participate in the review of internship policy that is currently ongoing, chaired by DG Health" to ensure that it is aligned to UHC." However, The Union denied this, saying that the health ministry did not explain what is wrong with the current internship policy and that they were not given a draft of the suggested policy.

The CS also explained that the Health Ministry had briefed the Union that they had received confirmation from the treasury that they would meet the Health Ministry's budget shortfall of Sh4.9 billion. With these funds, they would begin posting of all medical interns by April 1, 2024.

However, the Union lambasted the minister on the matter of interns, saying that all the ministry had given them since the beginning of the year were promises of posting but with no solid outcome.

"We were promised that the interns would be posted in February, and then we were promised they would be posted in March. Today, we have been given a promise that they will be posted in April. Goodwill is earned from the outcome of previous commitments. We have had commitments before, with national and county governments in January 2023, but nothing has been implemented," said KMPDU Secretary General Dr DAVJI Atellah.

"As we go on this strike, it is not a strike where we will accept promises. We want outcomes for the doctors, outcomes on basic salary arrears that have not been paid for seven years, outcomes of letters posting the interns per CBA signed in 2017, outcomes that doctors struggling with postgraduate education can do their exams and outcomes that doctors are going to be employed in the country to run universal health coverage," said Dr Atellah.

"It is not a strike for promises; it is a strike for real outcomes. The suspension of the strike is pegged on an all-nation approach to resolving the issues we have brought forth. We will not call off the strike without that meeting and without outcomes that are giving value to our members," he added.

Dr Abidan Mwachi, the KMPDU's National Chairperson said the talks were not fruitful as the minister and that doctors will continue their industrial action.

"The strike is on. we intend this to be the last strike of our decade, so we must get it right. There is absolutely no particular matter that we agreed on. If better is not good enough, it is not worth mentioning," said Dr Mwachi.

"We would like to remind the ministry that we are aware that when they are doing housing and deducting our funds, then suddenly, housing is not devolved. When they are doing tenders managed equipment scheme and sending it to the counties, health is suddenly not devolved. But when we run to the mother ministry and tell them that in 2017, doctors negotiated a painful return to work formula and had a CBA that gave them a very measly increment through the treasury, we are told to go back to our counties and for each individual county to negotiate with the treasury. 

"We are also told they will only deal with issues under the Ministry of Health. Doctors belong to the Ministry of Health; we will clamour for that. That is where the strike will end. We are here to make it right," said Dr Mwachi. 

However, the two KMPDU officials explained that they are still willing to engage in more discussions with other stakeholders, including the Ministry of Labour, which invited them to Tuesday's Conciliation Committee meetings.