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Doctors hit the streets in protest as talks with government collapse


 Doctors led by Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Dentists Union Secretary General Davji Atela members demonstrate along the streets of Nairobi on March 22, 2024. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

Hundreds of striking doctors poured to the streets as talks between their union and the committee appointed by the court collapsed as soon as they began.

In a show of anger and frustration, the doctors picketed outside the Ministry of Health’s Afya House headquarters, waving banners and blowing whistles before making their way to Parliament buildings, the Treasury and eventually at the Council of Governors offices in Westlands.

Earlier on Friday morning, the two sides emerged from seven-hour marathon talks only to issue conflicting declarations to the press.

Head of Public Service Felix Koskei declared that officially there was no doctors’ strike underway. But he admitted that some of the issues listed by the doctors were discussed.

“As you know, we have been here since 5pm following the court order that we meet here with KMPDU and other stakeholders. We have had intense and cordial discussions on many issues,” said Koskei.

“One thing that was very clear was that there were 19 issues that caused the strike and we went through them and agreed that they could be resolved amicably. There are some for the districts, some for the national government, some for specific hospitals,” he noted.

But his statement would soon be contradicted by statement from the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Union (KMPDU) officials who insisted that their nationwide strike remained in effect.

“The strike is still on until our demands are met; we understand the challenges and sacrifices each of you is making, and we want to assure that your efforts are not in vain,” Davji Atellah, the Secretary General of KMPDU said.

The meeting had been convened in response to a directive by the Employment and Labour Relations Court, which had ordered the parties involved to end the strike and attend the talks on Thursday.

In attendance were cabinet secretaries Njuguna Ndung’u (Treasury), Moses Kuria (Public Service), Florence Bore (Labour and Social Protection), as well as representatives from the Public Service Commission (PSC), Salaries and Remuneration Commission, and the Council of Governors, as mandated by the court.

President William Ruto had earlier chaired a crisis meeting of the Cabinet to deliberate on ways of addressing the deepening crisis in the health sector.

Before journalists were ushered out of the meeting room, Head of Civil Service Felix Koskei had struck a conciliatory tone in his speech, imploring the two sides to engage.

He also expressed the president’s desire that the crisis be resolved amicably. Linus Kariuki, the chairman of the committee, then outlined the 19 key grievances that had fuelled the union’s strike.

But sources privy to the talks told The Saturday Standard that during the talks, the government adopted a hardline stance, calling on the doctors to resume work “since the government has nothing more to offer beyond what it has offered”.

Realising that the talks were not heading anywhere, with the government not budging, the two sides agreed to schedule another meeting that is to be convened by the government to try and break the deadlock.

“The government admits that the issues we raised are not beyond it. So we are waiting,” a source in KMPDU added. He also divulged that another meeting had been scheduled for Friday afternoon, but this did not happen.

Some of the 19 enumerated issues include failure by medical training universities to sign off recognition agreement and deductions and remittances of union dues, failure to harmonise clinical allowances and provision of medical cover; and failure by Kenyatta National Hospital and SRC to complete negotiations of 2021/25 CBA. The government was also faulted for failing to honour and implement court decisions and directives.

Speaking after the talks in the morning hours of Friday,  Kenya Medical and Dentists Union Secretary General Dr Davji Atellah, blamed the government for what he termed as taking the doctors’ goodwill for granted.

“Last year, we had a matrix on 4th January 2023, signed by the Council of Governors, signed by the CS of Health, signed by the union and it took us 13 months, and nothing has taken place”, he said.

Speaking later during the protest by doctors, Davji said the government should expect more demonstrations.

“We will be on this strike as long as it can take, if the government wants it to take 100 days, it will take 100 days, if the government wants it to take 200 days it will take 200 days, we will only go back when the 19 issues we presented to them are sorted in full,” said Dr Davji.

He vowed to lead another demonstration on Wednesday next week.

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