Doctors dare government, vow to go on with strike for the long haul

Davji Atellah, Secretary General of KMPDU leads striking doctors in delivering an address outside Kakamega Governor Fernandes Barasa's office. [Robert Amalemba, Standard]

Striking doctors have dismissed threats by national and County governments to sack them.

Secretary General of the Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU), Davji Atella, led the striking doctors in a demonstration outside Kakamega Governor Fernandes Barasa’s office on Friday. The doctors held a procession through town before camping at the County offices' locked gates and addressed the governor who did not show up. A big crowd that chanted alongside the doctors and supported their calls, milled around.

Barasa addressed journalists on Tuesday and issued a warning to the striking doctors, threatening them with sacking if they failed to report to their duty stations by 8.00 am on Friday 12.

“As the governor of this county, I order the doctors to resume work by 8.00 am on Friday. We shall have no option but to sack those who will not have reported and employ other doctors,”  Barasa said. 

Secretary General of the Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) Davji Atella led the doctors in presenting their grievances and telling off Barasa.

“The CBA we want implemented was signed in 2017 but the government and governors are now denying they do not know it”,  Atella said.

He added: "The political leaders we have in this country are liars, they are pretenders. They sign an agreement today and tomorrow they will go against it. We will protect the CBA  with our blood, tears and sweat." 

He added: “The political leaders we have in this country are liars, they are pretenders. They sign an agreement today and tomorrow they will go against it. We will protect the CBA with our blood, tears and sweat”.

The Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) on Thursday said the government cannot honour the Collective Bargaining Agreement signed in 2017.

“Currently, state corporations, most of them, are between 60 and 75th percentile. The other sectors operating within that category are commissions and independent offices because their salary structure is similar to state corporations,” said Lyn Mengich, chairperson of SRC. (See story on Page 24)

In direct reference to the threats to sack them, Atella said:  “We are on this strike for the long haul. We have seen doctors in level four and five hospitals being exploited. This strike is for Kenyans who need healthcare. We must have a functional public healthcare system."

The doctors acknowledged that governors are good at building hospitals, but equipping them and employing doctors becomes a challenge to them. “Governors are good at building hospitals, but we want those facilities to be functional with doctors. Employing doctors on contract is exploitation and we shall not allow it. Nothing will take us back to work.”

Responding to Barasa’s threat, Atella said, “The governor said if we are not back on duty by 0800 a.m today, he will sack us. We are on the streets now. You can give us show cause letters, you can give us sacking letters, you can hit us with canisters, you can hit us with bullets, but we are saying we will maintain this strike with our blood and tears and sweat”

The doctors also took issue with Barasa for not being candid with them on matters of their remuneration. 

“We want to remind our Governor that we had a meeting with him when we held a strike here in Kakamega, which we called off because you promised us an implementation matrix. Unfortunately, you have totally ignored it and it is now rotting on your shelf. You promised to promote doctors but have not yet done so. 

In a show of unity, the doctors warned that sacking a doctor in Kakamega would not force a doctor in Mandera to work. They took issue with the tendency by some counties to employ doctors on three-month contracts, saying that was ridiculous and does not give the medics time to even diagnose tough medical conditions and start treatment on their patients as well as build a doctor-patient relationship. 

“We want to remind you that there are some diseases that take up to three months to manifest before correct diagnosis and treatment begins. Before a doctor starts treatment on such a patient his or her contract expires. This is a shame. A doctor must build a relationship with the patient over a long period of time," he said.

The doctors were not happy with the warning from the Chair of the Council of Governors, Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru. One of the speakers likened Waiguru to President Idi Amin of Uganda, calling her a dictator. On March 27 while addressing a CoG extraordinary meeting, Waiguru said: “We call upon the doctors who are still on strike to go back to work pursuant to the court orders issued on March 13, 2024, and March 15, 2024, failure to which the respective county governments will be at liberty to take appropriate disciplinary action.” 

“Many doctors have left due to frustration. You need to do all you can to retain these doctors. It makes no sense to employ foreign doctors and pay them three times more than what we demand. The Cuban doctors the government hired some years back were being paid Sh1 million per month,” said a specialist who identified himself as Dr Malenje.

Dr Sharon Oginda, a consultant surgeon said: “We are having the challenges you all know. Doctors should be respected because they hold the future for us. If we do not fight for them, the country will suffer," Amid chants of ‘comrade power’ the doctors insisted that their strike had just begun.

Meanwhile, Labour Cabinet Secretary Florence Bore has appealed to medical practitioners to give dialogue so as to end the current stalemate.

Bore admitted that current industrial action in the health sector is serious owing to the services that doctors offer to Kenyans on a daily basis.

Additional reporting by Pkemoi Ng'enoh