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April 24, 2024

Strike continues in Kenya as govt, doctors disagree on wage talks

Strike continues in Kenya as govt, doctors disagree on wage talks

Talks between striking Kenyan doctors and the government have broken down, the medics’ union said Wednesday, bringing misery for thousands of patients after six weeks of industrial action.

Some 7,000 members of the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) walked off the job in mid-March over demands for improved pay and the implementation of a 2017 collective agreement hammered out after a previous strike.

Last week, a Nairobi labour court ordered that a return-to-work agreement should be reached by the close of April 19.

But talks to resolve the standoff collapsed on Tuesday, KMPDU deputy secretary general Dennis Miskellah told AFP.

“The talks collapsed yesterday. Right now we are just chilling and resting,” he said, adding that the government had put their union through fruitless pressure for four days.

“They called us late for meetings that go up to midnight or 4:00 am just trying to tire us out.”

At the centre of the row is a move by the government to slash the salaries of medical interns, who make up about 30 percent of doctors, according to KMPDU.

Pay demand ‘unsustainable’ 

President William Ruto’s cabinet said on Tuesday it had resolved all the doctors’ 19 grievances except the issue of intern salaries.

It said it “was adamant that it is unsustainable” to pay the interns a monthly stipend of 206,000 Kenyan shillings ($1,530) as laid out in the 2017 agreement, and instead offered $530.

But the doctors have vowed not to return to the negotiating table if the initial pay level is not restored.

“The strike will only end with our issues addressed or a framework for addressing them put in place,” Miskellah said.

“We realised that even if we talked about everything else and not talk about the intern issue, the strike will never end,” he added, describing it as a “deal breaker”.

Strikes over working conditions in public hospitals are common in Kenya, leaving a trail of suffering and often triggering an exodus of Kenyan medics to other African countries and further afield.

In 2017, doctors staged a 100-day nationwide strike that left public hospitals shut.

Dozens of patients died from a lack of treatment during that walkout, which ended after the collective bargaining agreement was reached.

But doctors have accused the government of reneging on some parts of the deal, leading to the current strike.

Meanwhile, the national Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA Kenya) said on Wednesday it was “deeply concerned” by the current strike and was considering taking legal action against those who failed to resolve the walkout, without specifying who.

“This disruption has disproportionate effects on women and girls who continue to bear the brunt as primary caregivers,” it said, adding that expectant mothers were being turned away from public hospitals.

AFP