Deepening health crisis as doctors’ union officials jailed

By KBC Reporters

The Employment and Labour Relations Court has sentenced seven Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) officials to one month jail term for contempt of court after defying an order to end the ongoing doctors’ strike in its third month now.

In her ruling, Judge Hellen Wasilwa said the doctors’ appeal had no merit.

“This court decides to resume its order sentencing the applicants to a one month jail term,” Justice Hellen Wasilwa said.

Wasilwa had suspended the sentence twice to allow for further talks to end the doctors’ industrial action.

The officials led by Secretary General Dr Ouma Oluga were immediately handcuffed and led by police to the cells as they await their transfer to the respective prisons where they will serve their sentence.

The officials took to twitter to declare that they were ready for jail adding that they will only address themselves to the contentious issues in the 2013 CBA.

The government has said its 2013 collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with doctors cannot be implemented as it did not have the “input and blessings” of the Salaries and Remuneration Commission.

“Our leaders have been sentenced to one month jail for fighting for better healthcare for Kenyans. Day 71 of the doctors’ strike, we will not accept any offers outside the 2013 CBA”, they tweeted.

The verdict comes after talks to end the doctors’ strike mediated by COTU Secretary General Francis Atwoli failed to resolve the impasse.

Atwoli had offered to lead negotiations, together with Kenya National Commission on Human Rights  (KNCHR), between the government and union officials a fortnight ago but Sunday he confessed of his failure to resolve the impasse’ citing , alleged infighting between Health Permanent Secretary Nicholas Muraguri and his boss Cabinet secretary Cleopa Mailu.

He  also blamed senior doctors  with private clinics for allegedly mis-advising the striking doctors.

The doctors have been adamant on the implementation of the 2013 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) while the government on the other hand has been pushing for a new CBA.

Talks to end the doctors’ strike which is now in its 71st day are now in limbo. Meanwhile, the striking doctors have suspended any engagement with government on the controversial 2013 CBA until their leaders are released.

The doctors who gathered at Railways Club to chart the way forward after their leaders were committed to jail demanded the resignation of Heath Cabinet Secretary Cleopa Mailu and the Principal Secretary Nicholas Muraguri.

However, Mailu says he regrets the jailing of the doctors saying the national government is not to blame because the doctors’ union officials were sued by governors.

The doctors have vowed to hold vigil at Industrial Area Prison and Langata Women’s Prison starting Monday until their leaders are released.

In a show of solidarity, the Kenya Medical Association (KMA) has announced the closure of all private health facilities beginning midnight in protest of the imprisonment of KMPDU officials.

The facilities KMA says will remain closed for 24 hours worsening the health crisis.

Elsewhere, Constitutional Lawyers have termed the jailing of doctors’ union officials a violation of the 2010 constitution.

The lawyers who took to the social media platform said the Kenyan workers have a constitutional right to strike.

Nairobi lawyer Paul Muite in a tweet said the government cannot have forced labour.

Reactions

ODM leader Raila Odinga and his Amani National Congress counterpart Musalia Mudavadi have accused the government of lacking commitment in addressing the doctors’ strike.

Speaking at Gusii Stadium the two said the Jubilee government has failed to deliver on its promises and keeping the interests of Kenyans at heart.

Odinga condemned the Jailing of the seven KMPDU officials terming the move disturbing and horrifying.

He said imprisonment of union officials says sets an extremely dangerous precedent.

The former Prime Minister further said that what the doctors are asking for is a drop in the ocean compared to the money that is embezzled.

  

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