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Doctors reject return-to-work plan

Health & Science
 Health Cabinet Secretary Susan Nakhumicha when she appeared before the Senate Health Committee to deliberate on the ongoing doctors' strike on May 2, 2024. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Like a dreary encore, talks between doctors and the authorities collapsed again on Friday, with the union protesting at what it termed as deliberate efforts by the government to force them into signing a return-to-work formula they never agreed on.

A tense meeting between the two sides ended in disarray after Kenya Medical, Pharmacists and Dentists Union ( KMPDU) officials walked out, leaving the Chief of Staff and Head of Public Service Felix Koskei with regrets about the aborted talks.

Speaking at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre, Nairobi, Koskei said the national and county governments were committed to ending the strike and addressing the country’s needs via a return-to-work formula in compliance with a previous court order.

“We were ready to sign the agreement to end the strike but the union introduced new issues at the last minute,” said Mr Koskei.

The negotiations were convened by various representatives of the national government, Council of Governors and the KMPDU. Ahead of the talks, a statement to the press by Mr Koskei had indicated that a return-to-work formula was in the works.

However, KMPDU Deputy Secretary General Dennis Miskellah told The Sunday Standard by telephone that the meeting was to fine-tune the document ahead of signing.

He said during the short-lived meeting, the government side did agree to some of the issues the union had raised but was non-committal on implementation timelines.

“While we were negotiating, one of their team members was taking minutes. They used those notes to unilaterally draft a return-to-work formula and tried to arm-twist us into signing it. We could not agree to that,” he added.

He also added that “the strike is still on”

The Council of Governors vice chair Ahmed Abdullahi – who is also the Wajir County Governor - said that significant progress had been made in the negotiations, with both parties reaching consensus on eight critical issues relating to county governments.

However, tensions escalated when the doctors insisted on additional demands.

“On all the eight, we agreed and we got them to initiate in good faith and the union was in agreement with us… the union’s advisory council came today and they said they cannot sign,” said Abdullahi.

He added, “They tried to extract some more definite numbers and timelines, but we said we will not be able to commit counties on those. But in principle, we have agreed on everything. Why will they continue with the strike in spite of agreeing with us on all those?”

Despite this, the Council of Governors, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Labour and the Public Service Commission proceeded with the signing, urging the union to do the same by Monday, maintaining that the proposed return-to-work formula cannot be altered and must be approved as is, citing legal constraints.

“As national government, we have said that the only issue that we have not agreed on was on internship and the court yesterday (Thursday) did direct that that issue be consolidated with the matter in court and held in abeyance unless the parties are able to discuss,” Health CS Susan Nakhumicha said, but the union claims that critical issues were left out.

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