The latest attempt to resolve the protracted labour dispute was by the National Assembly’s joint committees on Labour and Health, if only to ease the suffering of many Kenyans for whom private healthcare is out of reach.
Striking doctors will find it increasingly difficult to justify their ongoing industrial action as the three-month mark beckons. Just this week, they suffered several setbacks.
The National Treasury, in a tough statement, termed as unsustainable the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) signed with the Government in 2013 through former Permanent Secretary for Public Sanitation Mark Bor and former doctors’ union secretary-general Sultani Matendechero.
Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentist Union secretary-general Ouma Olago led other officials in making presentations to the joint committees, where he accused the government of lacking commitment to resolve the standoff.
He took issue with government officials seconded to the mediation team for skipping meetings, perhaps taking a cue from Health Principal Secretary Nicholas Muraguri, whom it was reported had declined to chair the talks despite being instructed to do so by his boss, Cabinet Secretary Cleopas Mailu.
Dr Muraguri is said to have instead engaged in matters not entirely related to the health sector.
“There is lack of good faith on the part of the government and its representatives, yet we are committed to ending the strike to ease the pain of Kenyans,” said Dr Olago.
The meeting was almost derailed when Aldai MP Cornelly Serem raised a preliminary matter, saying the union officials did not represent the face of Kenya. But the discussion was swiftly ruled out by Health committee chairperson Rachael Nyamai (Kitui South MP).
The union’s treasurer Daisy Korir said the composition of the union, which she termed as national in character, was one of the issues that had created suspicion in the ongoing talks to resolve the dispute. But Ms Nyamai enquired whether she wanted the House committee to “proceed on that route”, or deal with the doctors’ petition.
The petition raises issues contained in the controversial CBA, such as better equipped hospitals, scaling up of the health budget and recruitment of more doctors. It was reportedly silent on salary increases for doctors, set at 300 per cent of current earnings, subject to review by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC).
National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich, SRC chairperson Sarah Serem and chairperson of Public Service Commission Margaret Kobia ruled out the raise, not only due to the ripple effects it would have on the civil service, with demands for similar increases, but also because it would have to be harmonised across the health sector, which was not sustainable.
The chairman of the Labour committee of the Council of Governors, Mr James Ongwae, said doctors in the public sector had better pay packages than some of their colleagues in private hospitals. He urged the doctors to accept the pay offer, which includes new medical risk and emergency calls allowances.
“A graduate doctor earns Sh116,000 more than a graduate architect or engineer as the starting salary in the public sector. So even as we seek to improve the terms of doctors, they are not badly off,” he said.
Mr Rotich was taken to task by Cherangany MP Wesley Korir over “government silence” on the controversial CBA. “The government knew this CBA was illegal because it was signed by an official (Mr Bor) who was no working for the government at the time and had no authority to commit it. But no defence on your side has been filed in court regarding this document. You have allowed Kenyans to be taken for a ride,” he said.
However, Mr Rotich said the government had no intention of implementing the CBA, saying the “salary increase and remuneration” section was provisional and subject to review. But the government had decided to hold on to the document since proposals on improvement of the health sector had substance, he said.
He said that a more “realistic CBA” should be renegotiated, but cautioned that apart from the government’s offer of 40 per cent pay raise and additional allowances above those harmonised with the rest of the civil service, other demands would be implemented over time. These include better equipping of hospitals.
Council of Governors chairman Peter Munya said governors were not to blame for the jailing of doctors, saying CoG went to court as a last resort.
He said the counties – responsible for up to 90 per cent of health services management in Kenya – were ready to improve the doctors’ terms of service in recognition of the “important work they do” as well as refurbish hospitals under their care. He said most counties had already set aside between 20 and 40 per cent of their budgets to health.
The Abuja Declaration recommends that African countries allocate at least 15 per cent of their health budgets to health.