Society / Health & Science
Monday, 13 Feb 2017 17:15 EATckaranja@kenyafreepress.com
A Kenyan court has convicted officials of the doctors' union for contempt of court and sent them to jail without an option of fine. Officials of the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentist Union (KMPDU) will now serve one month in jail after they refused to honour an order of the court that required them to suspend their strike and resume negotiations. The Council of Governors had moved to court at the start of the strike with a request for the doctors to stop the strike and resume negotiations.
Justice Hellen Wasilwa agreed with the Council, asked the doctors to suspend the strike and resume negotiations on the legality of the Collective Bargaining Agreement signed with the Ministry of Health. But the doctors flatly refused, kickstarting the process that culminated with their officials being sent to jail on Monday. "Negotiations will take place but you will serve your sentence after contempt of court," the judge said in her Monday judgment. "I gave the sentence on conditions but the conditions have not been met to date. Interventions will proceed after my ruling."
The court's decision adds more confusion to the two months strike that has stifled operations in public health facilities. For once, it throws the ongoing negotiations in abeyance providing room for a protracted strike that could fester for many months. The National Super Alliance (NASA) leaders condemned the court's decision saying it deepens the crisis in the health sector and sets "extremely dangerous precedence".
In separate press statements, Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka warned that the idea that the courts are now the entities to resolve disputes between employers and employees is dangerous and disturbing. They said it goes against the constitutionally-protected right of workers to withhold labour when they are in disagreement with the employer and especially when the employer in this case the government, is reneging on an agreement.
"Rather than resolve the crisis in the health sector, the jailing of union officials deepens it and sets an extremely dangerous precedent," Raila Odinga, the ODM leader said. The former Prime Minister said the decision marks out the government as a dishonest and unreliable employer whose word, even in writing count for nothing. He said the jailing of the officials has grim implications for resolving future conflicts between the government, employees and other entities.
Mr Musyoka said the jailing of the doctors reflects very badly on the Jubilee regime which he accused of standing helplessly as corrupt officials looted the Health ministry's coffers. "The culprits in the Afya House looting spree continue to strut the streets of Nairobi, free, unfettered and unhindered," he said, pointing out that Jubilee has made martyrs out of the incarcerated union officials. "Jubilee has scored an own goal in the process. The incarceration of the doctors will not solve the problem but rather exacerbate it."
It is not clear whether the tripartite negotiations will continue now that the main negotiators, on the part of the doctors, are in jail. But just as the NASA leaders have observed, the decision to jail the officials adds fuel to a fierce fire that has been tottering with doctors asking for improved terms and conditions of service.
Rather than subdue, the jail term will harden the doctors leading to a protracted strike that will complicate suffering of those patients seeking services in public hospitals. Legally, only the officials of the union, specifically the secretary general, is mandated to call off a strike. It remains to be seen the course the strike will take with the officials out of the way.
It is very unlikely that the officials could as much as call of the strike from the discomfort of the prison, meaning that the country is a staring in a perhaps a long drawn strike in the health sector.