Talks to end the strike by health workers collapsed on Wednesday even as ministry officials offered to increase the allowances of doctors and nurses to the level of other civil servants.
The offer was meant to entice the workers to return to work as they wait for conclusive negotiations on the pay rise demands.
The strike, which has paralysed health services in all public hospitals, enters its fourth day on Thursday.
On Wednesday, President Uhuru Kenyatta urged the workers to return to work, saying the government was ready to negotiate with them.
However, opposition politicians Raila Odinga (ODM), Musalia Mudavadi (ANC) and Kalonzo Musyoka (Wiper) blamed the Jubilee administration’s failure to tackle graft for the lack of funds needed to meet the health workers’ demands for better terms of service.
Clerics affiliated to the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) and the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops were moved by the suffering of patients in public hospitals and urged President Kenyatta to personally lead negotiations to end the strike.
Any hopes there may have been for a deal to end the strike evaporated when the Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Dentists’ Union chairman, Dr Samuel Oroko, led doctors’ representatives out of the negotiations at Afya House Nairobi. He accused the government of resorting to intimidation to force the doctors to end their strike. Dr Oroko said doctors will not go back to the negotiating table until a court order authorising the arrest of union officials is lifted.
The Labour Court sitting in Milimani, Nairobi, had earlier directed Kilimani police to arrest the doctors and nurses’ union officials and charge them for disobeying an earlier order to stop the strike. Last week, the court suspended the strike after the Council of Governors filed a case in which it argued that the strike by the two unions was illegal “because the labour laws have been violated”.
STRIKE ENTERED THIRD DAY
The council has argued that the strike, which entered its third day on Wednesday, contravenes the Labour Relations Act, which prohibits strikes by workers engaged in essential services, which if interrupted would endanger lives. The application will be heard on Tuesday.
Doctors have insisted that the strike will continue and “there will be no more talks”.
Said Dr Oroko: “The Ministry is relating to us in bad faith and, therefore, the strike that began on December 5, 2016, will continue. They are taking us in circles.”
He spoke after walking out of the meeting at 4pm.
While the doctors had gone into the meeting hoping to get a deal on the implementation of a 2013 collective bargaining agreement (CBA), the Ministry of Health officials, led by Cabinet Secretary Cleopa Mailu, only gave a return-to-work offer.
The doctors have accused the ministry of arm-twisting health workers to return to work, yet their grievances, such as promotions, better remuneration and review of job groups, are yet to be resolved.
Shifting goal posts
However, the government has pointed an accusing finger at the two health workers’ unions, claiming that their officials kept shifting goal posts during the talks and had changed negotiating teams twice.
Sources in the government team said it had offered to increase allowances for doctors and nurses to match those enjoyed by other public servants as it works on a new CBA to be implemented from next July, when the government’s financial year starts.
The government team was understood to have warned that the demands by the doctors would push the wage bill through the roof.
The lowest paid doctor earns Sh130,000 as basic salary and allowances. Their union wants this raised to a minimum salary of Sh350,000.
“It will affect the salaries and allowances of teachers and other public servants. If the earnings of doctors go higher, it automatically means every public servant gets a higher pay,” said a source.
In Makueni, President Kenyatta urged doctors and nurses to be humane and return to work to save patients from further anguish and pain.
“To our civil servants and especially the striking doctors and nurses, nobody has refused to talk with you,” he said after commissioning a Kenya Medical Training College (KMTC) campus in Makindu town.
“You have seen that for the last few days we have been working hard to find a solution to the impasse.”
The President expressed optimism that a solution would soon be found, but called on the striking workers to resume work in the meantime.
“We need to be compassionate with the lives of citizens. We have lost over 14, close to 20 lives already. We should not allow innocent citizens to suffer for problems they know nothing about,” he said.
In Tharaka-Nithi, Mr Odinga and Mr Mudavadi questioned the failure by the government to honour the 2013 CBA, which granted doctors a 300 per cent pay rise. They asked President Kenyatta to show leadership.
“Where is the President when Kenyans are dying and others suffering in pain on their beds at home?” asked Mr Odinga during a rally at Kathwana market in Tharaka-Nithi.
He said Sh5.2 billion ,which is said to have been stolen from the Health Ministry and “benefited a few individuals” was enough to pay doctors and nurses who have boycotted work.
Mr Mudavadi said deceit and corruption were solely responsible for the suffering of Kenyans.
“Jubilee is in the habit of lying and then dishonouring legal agreements it should enforce. They duped teachers whose reaction paralysed the education sector. Now they entered a CBA with medical professionals, which they don’t want to honour while Kenyans suffer in need of medical attention,” he said.
In Nairobi, Mr Musyoka accused the Jubilee administration of insensitivity and urged the government to implement the CBA to stop the suffering of Kenyans.
“This insensitivity by the Jubilee Regime is a violation of human rights as enshrined in Chapter 4 of the Constitution. It is a crime against humanity,” he said.
Reports by Eunice Kilonzo, Pius Maundu, Alex Njeru and Patrick Langat, Pius Maundu