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End this rigidity and pay doctors their dues

By The Standard | March 25th 2017

The decision by county governors to hold back doctors’ salaries for the period they were on strike is unfortunate and ill-advised. Not only is their decision unfair given that it goes against the spirit of the return-to-work formula that was hammered out after the intervention of the Court of Appeal, it also muddies the waters in this already poisoned environment that has soured worker-employee relations.

Under the 2010 constitutional dispensation it is county governments that employ doctors in public hospitals. However, after a dispute over the implementation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), physicians downed their tools for 100 days, but after protracted negotiations, they agreed to call off the strike. But now counties are desperately trying to sell the argument that physicians do not deserve to be paid because they did not work during the three months they were on strike.

Their reasoning gets more convoluted when they argue that counties used up some of the Sh3.2 billion that had been allocated for salaries, to transfer the patients who were in critical condition to private hospitals. This argument advanced by the Council of Governors (CoG) is fallacious and convenient.

It is fallacious, not because the doctors’ union has made a counter-claim that it had been agreed that physicians would be paid during the period they were away, but because the CoG is acting in bad faith. The intention here is not to get into the merits and demerits of these claims and counter-claims. What should be foremost in the minds of doctors and their employers is that the interest of patients comes first.

From the way the strike was handled, it is clear that the counties are churlishly trying to pull their weight and have shown little interest in the welfare of patients who in many cases had to go for several months without treatment. This is demonstrated by the actions of the Council of Governors.

Just this month, CoG representatives travelled to Tanzania to pen an agreement which would allow doctors from this neighbouring country to work in local public hospitals. As this was happening, the management of the Kenyatta National Hospital refused to sign a return-to-work formula brokered by the negotiators, and only acquiesced when they were pressurised to do so by other well-meaning stakeholders.

It is becoming increasingly clear that brinkmanship and intransigence is being allowed to stand in the way of common sense even as the welfare of patients is disregarded by hawkish leaders. We must stop this obduracy before it escalates the crisis and results in another nationwide strike.

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