Ghosts of 2017 UhuRuto-doctors CBA deal returns to haunt Ruto

When then Council of Governors Chairperson Peter Munya, Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentist Union (KMPDU) Chairman Samuel Oroko,then Health CS Cleophas Mailu and then KMPDU Secretary General Ouma Oluga signed a 'Return to work formula ' agreement with the doctors at the Governors offices in Nairobi. [File, Standard]

The 2017 health workers Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), central to the doctors’ strike, was influenced by political promises during an election period and will be impossible to implement, according to a former Health Cabinet Secretary.

Mutahi Kagwe, who was not Health CS when the CBA was signed, faced the implications of the agreement when he took over the Ministry just before the Covid-19 outbreak in Kenya in 2020. He spent much of his time negotiating with health workers to prevent industrial action.

Speaking on Kameme FM, Kagwe admitted that election periods are often filled with promises from candidates seeking power, but the reality hits after they take office. At the time, President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto, now the President, promised to look into doctors’ welfare.

“It was during elections, when the doctors demanded the CBA. But promising is different from implementing. Even doctors are usually promised things that those who promise know too well that the promises can’t be achieved,” he said.

He admitted that former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration intended to implement the CBA but faced hurdles after forming the government.

Kagwe observed that the ongoing doctors’ strike will only be resolved if the government and the doctors’ union engage in dialogue and called on both parties to stop grandstanding.

“When two elephants fight it is the grass that suffers and that grass today is patients. They continue to bear the brunt of the strike and that is why government and the doctors union must engage in dialogue,” he said, urging the government to listen to doctors’ grievances.

The contentious CBA, which President William Ruto has disowned by stating that the government would not meet its demands, was crafted after the longest health workers strike in Kenya’s history. The strike lasted for 100 days when Ruto was the deputy president. Doctors stayed away from work for three months and ten days, while nurses were on strike for 150 days.

The document was crafted by a 7-member committee that comprised four representatives from the Ministry of Health and three from the Kenya Medical Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU). The purpose was to regulate relations between the two parties in the interest of promoting the economic well-being of health workers and improving service delivery in public hospitals.

The CBA has been termed as unreasonable by the Council of Governors (CoG) who have called for its review. The council, through its Health Committee chairperson, Tharaka Nithi Governor Muthomi Njuki, said the CBA contains clauses that are not only difficult to implement but unreasonable.

Well calculated

Njuki argued that under the current CBA, about 95 per cent of doctors have individual contracts with respective counties. He said it is thus unfair for the doctors to down tools en masse, crippling the health sector across the country.

“This is the reason we are saying that the current industrial strike is more than meets the eye. The succession moves and more unions joining it points to a well calculated move that is aimed at something. We therefore call for comprehensive investigations to establish whether the strike is politically instigated,” said Njuki.

The governor argued that it does not make sense that the CBA signed in 2017 sought recognition for intern doctors, who are not employees during their internship.

“We are saying that the majority of the counties are at 95 per cent payment of arrears and issues raised in the CBA. In that case, it would be less than 10 counties that doctors would be on strike and not across the country as we have witnessed,” he said.

He said county-based doctors’ unions should engage governors to iron out their grievances as opposed to depriving Kenyans of health-care services countrywide.

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