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File photo of Ag. KMPDU Secretary General Dr. Chibanzi Mwachonda. Photo: Courtesy

Spotlight on doctors as strike commences amid pandemic, court order.

A health crisis is looming after a nationwide doctors’ strike began in earnest on Monday, 21st December 2020 amid the Covid-19 pandemic. KMPDU acting Secretary General Dr. Chibanzi Mwachonda said in a statement seen by Niaje News Desk that the strike would officially be launched at 10.30am on Monday after which the union would proceed to the burial of the late Dr. Stephen Mogusu who succumbed to Covid-19 on 7th December.

The strike commences despite pressure from different quarters to shelve any industrial action pending negotiations due to the devastating effects of the pandemic as the country enters the festive season. Dr. Chibanzi had on Saturday cancelled at the last minute a press conference aimed at giving directions to union members to allow him to consult with officials on the next course of action after the Employment and Labour Relations Court issued orders stopping the impending strike.

Health CS Mutahi Kagwe had also made several pleas to the medics to call off the strike and get back to work urgently as the Government is striving to address issues raised by doctors, ”Therefore, I urge you again to adhere to what the court has ruled to come back so that we can help our people. I also want to be very clear to those of you who may have been on strike to resume to avoid losing their jobs. Please do not lose your jobs and be a statistic as one of the people who will be looking for jobs come January,” warned the Health CS.

He said that the Ministry of Health had so far met most of the demands issued by doctors following the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic. “I can confirm that my Ministry and that of Labour and Social Protection continues to engage with union officials to find an amicable solution to the issues that concern their members. Kenyans can now enjoy their holidays without anxiety and fear of seeking unavailable services in our public facilities as it should be,” said CS Kagwe. ”There is not a single (health) institution that will operate without PPEs. We have also been looking into matters relating to medical cover of our workers from the 1st of October,” he emphasized.

However, the union had by Monday made a determination to go on with the strike. Speaking to members of the fourth estate during the launch of the industrial action, Dr. Chibanzi said that doctors would not return to work despite the ruling, ”No amount of intimidation and threats will make doctors go back to work. Court orders will not stop doctors from dying or getting infections…”, he said. This time round, the doctors have accused the government of risking their lives by not providing enough PPEs and a medical cover to ensure safety when treating Covid-19 patients as part of the demands issued after the emergence of Covid-19 in the country.

However, sources say that union politics and a history of bad blood between the union and the Ministry of Health might have informed the decision to go ahead with the strike despite public pressure and pleas from the Government to contextualize the situation in the country and halt the strike. It has also emerged that since union elections are approaching, some officials angling for key positions are keen to endear themselves to the medics by appearing to care about their grievances. Others are said to be eyeing political seats after the end of their tenure at the union and intend to use the strike to consolidate a constituency around them. It is against the backdrop of these political interests that the strike has been pushed in earnest.

The union has been at the centre of political intrigues in the past, with the most notable one being the 100-day 2017 strike over a contentious CBA that had promised doctors a 300% salary increase, an increase in allowances which would have seen the lowest paid doctor earn a salary of over Ksh300, 000 and the highest paid was going to earn slightly under Ksh.1 million per month.

Housing allowance would have risen to between Ksh.30, 000 and Ksh.120, 000 depending on the job group, up from between Ksh.20, 000 and Ksh.80, 000. Extraneous allowance would have ranged between Ksh.60,000 and Ksh.100,000 per month, up from between Ksh.30,000 and Ksh.40,000, while commuter allowance would have gone up to between Ksh.20,000 and Ksh.50,000, up from between Ksh.6,000 and Ksh.16,000. Non-practicing allowance would have remained at between Ksh.12, 000 to Ksh.60,000 per month. The CBA also provided that all doctors in public facilities would work 40 hours per week and any extra hours would be compensated.

However, the Government argued that the demands were made in the absence of consultations with the Council of Governors and the SRC thus rendering them untenable. The union also rejected a counter-offer by the Government whose impact to the exchequer would be an additional Ksh4 billion in salary increases, allowances and benefits shared among the nation’s 5,000 doctors. The 100-day strike affected more than 2,000 public health institutions, paralyzing health services in a country where the majority cannot afford private medical care.

The pandemic has now claimed the lives of 1,639 Kenyans, including the lives of over 32 healthcare professionals. The Ministry of Health has urged medics to be on guard against the disease and to follow the laid down protocols to avoid contracting the deadly virus.