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Medics unions push back on government call for dialogue, scoff at threats to fire them

 Doctors and other health workers camp outside Parliament on April 9, 2024. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Two striking medics’ unions have dared county governments to sack their members and blamed county governments for derailing talks aimed at resolving the crisis in the health sector, which continues to worsen.

The Kenya Union of Clinical Officers, said the statement from the Cabinet Secretary for Labour and Special Programs, Florence Bore, calling on the Unions to embrace dialogue and resume duty as negotiations continue, should not have been directed at the medics.

Instead, the union stated that health workers weren’t to blame for the crisis, adding that the strike was a last resort that was occasioned by their employers. The union specifically blamed the county governments which, they argued, are in contempt of the Court Order directing them to resume negotiations and conclude on CBA negotiations.

 “It is the 47 County Governors and County Public Service Boards that are responsible for the current crisis. The county governors have turned down conciliation meetings called by Cabinet Secretary for Labour,” read the statement from KUCO that was signed by Secretary-General, George Gibore.

 “The Governors have also resulted in threats, victimisation, intimidations and other unorthodox ways to arm-twist our members into submission. This can’t work!” the statement reads.

“Clinical Officers and health workers can’t be forced to work against their will,” Gibore concluded.

Meanwhile, officials of the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) Central Kenya Branch, have scoffed at Kiambu Governor Kimani Wamatangi's threat to fire all striking doctors in his county. Instead, they told its members to stay put.

Led by the Branch Chairman, James Githinji, the officials said they will not relent in their industrial action until their demands are met and vowed not to be cowed by threats to sack them.

Speaking at the Thika level 5 hospital where services have been crippled by the strike, Githinji warned the facility's management against detaining patients who had been discharged; or admitting persons with various ailments in one ward.

“Kiambu County has a serious shortage of doctors with (only) about 300 instead of the recommended 2,500 in line with the international doctor-patient ratio of 1:1,000,” Githinji said.

The official told members to heed communication only from the union and ignore whatever information they get from the county or national governments.

On Friday, Kiambu Governor, Kimani Wamatangi, issued a statement calling on the doctors in the county to resume work by Saturday morning or face the sack.

 "I call upon all Kiambu health workers currently on strike to immediately report back to duty, failure of which the County will have no option but to implement disciplinary procedures provided under Employment and Labor laws and regulations  ”Wamatangi said.

The county boss said that the health workers in Kiambu had no justification for participating in the industrial action since his administration had already addressed all their concerns conclusively.

Kilifi Governor Gideon Mung’aro has also threatened to fire striking health workers in his county, who he said were a mere 5 per cent.

“We have 95 per cent of our doctors on duty and only five per cent are out of their work stations and I will not hesitate to sack them because they are sabotaging the health sector in the County, yet I met their part of the bargain. I am sending a warning to them that if they fail to report to work from tomorrow then I will proceed with the disciplinary action,” he said. 

Among the issues that were addressed included the promotions of 101 doctors, car loans and mortgages and also improved working conditions. The 101 doctors out of 122 doctors in the county were promoted to various job groups and they were allowed to benefit from mortgages and loans.

Elsewhere, Nyanza ACK Bishops and clergy have criticised the government over the handling of the crisis in the health sector.

Led by Bishop David Kodia of ACK Bondo Diocese, the religious leaders said the government needs to address the issues raised by the medics without being condescending. The bishop also added that there is a lot of money being wasted by public officials, which could be used to pay health workers, whom he also said need to be respected.

(Additional reporting by Nehemiah Okwemba and Onesmus Baraka)

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