Government now adamant as Raila calls for solution to strike

From left, Solicitor General Shadrack Mose, Health CS Susan Nakhumicha, Head of Public Service Felix Koskei and Public Service Commission CS Moses Kuria addressing the media at KICC, Nairobi on March 22, 2024 after their meeting with doctors failed to bear fruit. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

The ongoing strike by doctors looks far from over as both sides appeared to dig in yesterday each holding ground a day after signs from the government side that the matter would be resolved sooner.

Head of Public Service Felix Koskei said some of the demands made by the Kenya Medical Practitioners Dentist Union (KMPDU) were unattainable and unachievable due to the current economic times. 

On the other hand the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentist Union appeared to have teamed up with opposition MPs where Embakasi East Member of Parliament, Babu Owino, said he has written to the National Assembly Speaker of his intention to move a Motion of no confidence against Health Cabinet Secretary Susan Nakhumicha.

Babu claimed the motion, which has already received the support of 111 MPs, is based on two grounds: gross violation of the constitution and incompetence.  Owino said the doctors' strike, which began on March 15th, has crippled Kenya's healthcare system and denied scores of citizens their basic right to healthcare. 

He stated that if the government does not listen to the striking doctors, MPs will join the industrial action. "We don't want govt to demand. When you push, we, KMPDU and MPs will push, when you pull, we'll resist....when you demand we will refuse," the MP said. 

Speaking from Naivasha yesterday Koskei identified the Sh206,000 monthly payment to the interns as one of the major obstacles adding that the government could only afford Sh70,000.

“We engaged the Salaries and Remuneration Commission which has proposed Sh70,000 per month for the intern doctors and the government is ready to pay this,” he said.

He noted that with the number of graduating medics on the rise, the government could not meet the salary demand which had risen from Sh4B to Sh12B.

“We should focus on the internship of these medical students who will in future earn whatever they want once they are through with their learning,” he said.

On Tuesday, the government extended an olive branch to the striking healthcare workers, stating that their demands were being addressed by both levels of government.  Koskei said through a statement the government secured Sh2.4B to facilitate the immediate deployment and posting of all the 2023-24 cohort of medical interns.

He said the government had agreed to clear all arrears of basic salary accrued by the national government for the medics arising from the 2017-21 CBA.

Addressing the press yesterday on the sidelines of the ongoing Women in Procurement and Supply Chain conference in Naivasha, Koskei attributed the current crisis to the move by doctors to ignore court orders.

He said that despite the court calling off the strike and a committee formed to address the long-standing matters that had bedeviled health care, the medics had continued with their industrial action.

“The committee has identified 19 issues that need to be resolved and some belong to the national government and counties while others are cross-cutting,” he said.

Koskei said that the government was committed to paying all arrears of basic salary accrued by the national government while the counties were doing their part.

“We are calling for reasoning in this whole situation and for the doctors to return to work and alleviate the suffering of Kenyans as we solve their problems,” he said.

Meanwhile, ODM leader Raila Odinga called on the government to move with speed and resolve the ongoing doctors’ strike.

In a statement after chairing ODM party's Central Management Committee meeting, odinga raised concern over the manner government was addressing the matter.

He said Kenyans continued to suffer from a lack of access to essential healthcare services.

‘’We take the position that the government must immediately respect and implement the 2021 court ruling which directed the Ministry of Health and the 47 county governments to implement the Basic Salary as per the agreed, signed and registered CBA of 2017-2021,’’ the statement reads in part.

He further supported the call by doctors for the government to Allocate 15 per cent of the budget to health and devolve the resources to the counties.

“We equally support calls by doctors for annual and incremental recruitment of doctors and other healthcare workers until the country attains the recommended levels of staffing for various levels of facilities, that is what the government does with teachers, police and military.” Raila said.

This comes even as the Ministry of Health sought 14 more days to continue negotiating with doctors in a bid to end the countrywide strike.

Doctors on Tuesday rejected the government offer which aims to end the strike stalemate.

The Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union chairperson Abi Mwachi maintained that the government must honour the 2017-21 Collective Bargaining Agreement in totality.