Society / Health & Science
Wednesday, 15 Feb 2017 11:32 EAT
The opposition coalition CORD secured the release of seven doctors' union officials who had been committed to jail for disobeying a court order. The Court of Appeal, conceding to a plaint by CORD lawyers on behalf of the doctors, ordered the release from prison of the unionists jailed on Monday for contempt of court after failing to call off the ongoing doctors’ strike as earlier directed by the Employment and Labour Relations Court.
A three judge bench comprised of Justices Wanjiru Karanja, Hannah Okwengu and Jamilla Mohamed at the same time directed negotiations to take place in the next seven days and the matter be back in court February 23. The mediation talks, according to directive from the judges will come up with a report aimed at calling off the strike that has lasted more than two months, paralysing medical services in public hospitals. Yesterday evening, private hospital doctors started a 48-hour strike in solidarity with their jailed colleagues.
The ruling by the judges today followed an agreement by the parties to the dispute, Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists' Union (KMPDU), the national government and the Council of Governors and the opposition's lawyers on a four-point plan that was affirmed by the court. These terms in the consent include the immediate release of the officials, resumption of negotiations, and the role of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights and the Law Society of Kenya as the mediators.
The seven KMPDU officials who were set free are chairman Samuel Oroko, secretary general Ouma Oluga, treasurer Daisy Korir, deputy treasurer Evelyne Chege, Allan Ochanji, Mwachonda Chibandzi and Titus Ondoro. CORD leader Raila Odinga earlier accompanied his party's lawyers including James Orengo, Mutula Kilonzo Jr and Philip Murgor to the Appeal Court to appeal the ruling that jailed the union officials.
The CORD case has infused sharp political currents into the doctors' salary dispute with the opposition seeking mileage from the government's ill-treatment of the professionals in negotiations. Speaking at the Senate inquiry into the crisis yesterday, Health Cabinet Secretary Cleopa Mailu said he could get doctors back on the negotiating table and ensured the crisis ended. The CS accused his Principal Secretary Nicholas Muraguri of insubordination, saying the PS had refused to take part in the talks as instructed by the boss.
It was a confession seen, however, as part of the government's effort to cut credibility losses from the matter as the health crisis deteriorated. The 5,000-member doctors' union said only its officials languishing in the prisons around the country would lead it in the talks, throwing a spanner into the works.
The doctors want the government to implement a deal agreed in 2013 to raise their basic salaries by 150 to 180 percent. They want a review of working conditions, job structures and criteria for promotions, and address under-staffing in state hospitals. The unions had been sent to various prisons as follow: Dr Oluga (Kamiti prison) Dr Chibanzi (Shimo La Tewa), Dr Farouk (Kodiaga), Dr Daisy (Machakos Prison), Dr Evelyn (Langata prison), Dr Ondoro (Industrial Area).
Mr Odinga seized on the issue as soon as the unionists were jailed on Monday. “Release the officials of the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Union immediately; Government must then resume meaningful engagement with them and the University Academic Staff Union to restore sanity in the healthcare and higher education sector in Kenya!” he had said.