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Clerics disclose what stalled talks to end medics' strike

By Dr Mercy Korir | Published Wed, March 8th 2017 at 00:00, Updated March 7th 2017 at 22:33 GMT +3
Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) Secretary General Ouma Oluga chats with Sheikh Adan Wachu of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims in Nairobi yesterday. [PHOTO: WILLIS AWANDU/STANDARD]

Suspicions between the Government and representatives of the striking doctors' have stalled efforts to end the three-month boycott, a team of religious leaders has said.

The team that included John Cardinal Njue of the Catholic Church, the head of Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) Jackson ole Sapit and Julius Mwamba of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) talked of sharp differences between officials of the doctors' union and their ministry of Health counterparts.

In a report handed to President Uhuru Kenyatta, the team that also included Sheikh Aden Wachu, of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims, Evangelical Alliance of Kenya's John Warari and Nitin Malde from the Hindu Council of Kenya, said it was these differences that resulted in some of the decisions that made the situation even worse.

In a report dated March 4, the preachers said doctors had shown remorse for ignoring a call by President Kenyatta to end the strike, now in its 94th day, and that they had also asked for forgiveness.

The clergymen, whose involvement in efforts to end the crisis had been acknowledged by the Court of Appeal, said they are willing to walk with Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) officials, and all doctors at large, and 'inculcate in them discipline and respect for their calling into the medical profession'.

Kenyans who have been suffering due to the boycott were hopeful that involvement of the President and the religious leaders would put the strike to an end.

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However, it emerged the Government withdrew the 40 per cent increment in allowances it had offered the doctors for them to go back to work.

The arrangement had been the doctors take the offer, go back to work and a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) signed between KMPDU and the Government within 60 days.

The doctors accused the Government of ignoring talks mediated by the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) and the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) that extensively discussed the contentious 2013 CBA doctors claim they had signed with the Government.

KMPDU has been pushing for 100 per cent implementation of the CBA which some Health ministry officials have said does not even exist. 

Doctors' union officials have said they are not against a new CBA but it must be signed before they return to work.

In a document dated March 3 that bears the words; 'Return-To-Work Formula (RTWF)', and which The Standard has seen, the Government has not committed itself to the idea of a new CBA as a condition to call off the strike.

The religious leaders, in their report, noted listed the effective date of paying enhanced allowances, a new risk allowance and improved basic salaries as the contentious issues.

"Health Cabinet Secretary Dr Cleopa Mailu has shown willingness to discuss and register a new CBA within 60 days after doctors have returned to work," the preachers said in their report.

In the latest proposal both parties are currently considering will see the medical officer intern, in Job Group C3-8 take home a minimum basic salary of Sh62,850 and a maximum of Sh68,165 every month, per the new Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) structure within one year after resuming work.

Medical Officers will be in Job Group C5-8, Senior Medical Officers in D2-8, Medical Specialists II D3-8, Medical Specialist I D5-8, Senior Medical Specialist E2-8, Chief Medical Specialist II E3-9 while Chief Medical Specialist I will be in group E4-2. This will be effective starting July this year.

According to the proposal, county governments with be required to sign 'recognition agreements' with 14 days of the implementation of the RTWF," a source who did not wish to be name told the Standard.

The source added: "The doctors' union officials have however rejected this proposal and wants the CBA registered and Recognition Agreements signed before calling off the strike."

"The doctors' union sees this as a show of bad faith on the part of the government and its unwillingness to solve the current impasse so they can go back to work," said the source.

"While it is a welcome idea, there are fears the Government may use the Inter-Religious Council to depict the doctors as immoral and people who are ignorant to the suffering of Kenyans, especially if it fails to resolve the crisis." 

The doctors have faulted the SRC for insisting on the new job groups, as spelled out in a circular that has focused on health workers.

The new salary structure was handed to the Public Service Commission (PSC) a day after the strike started on December 5 last year.

SRC insisted that all government agencies must employ the new salary scheme while negotiating CBAs with respective unions.

"The Ministry of Health therefore has been insisting on those specific bands and has been reluctant to negotiate outside this implementation matrix," the source said.

The doctors have accused SRC of overstepping its mandate. However, the salaries commission has maintained that it is well within its constitutional mandate.

As per the government's offer, doctors will get Emergency Call Allowance and a Medical Risk Allowance of Sh20,000 will also be introduced.

Doctors have also demanded that the 'recognition agreements' should be signed by all county governments, the Kenyatta National Hospital, the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) and all public universities with medical, pharmacy and dental schools.

The RTWF recognises only county governments as signatories to the Recognition Agreements.

And even after the deliberations, overseen by the clerics, it was not immediately clear what both parties had agreed about.

Other than better salaries and allowances, doctors have also been demanding better working conditions. Most of them say hospitals are not equipped and as such, they are not able to help patients.

They are also demanding opportunities to further their training without necessarily being treated as if they have left employment. They have lamented that county government are not allowing them to train.


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