Doctor's union officials now serving one month jail term for contempt of court

Justice Hellen Wasilwa had earlier postponed the sentence giving time for officials to end the three-months-long strike. Mediator on Sunday accused both parties of laxity.

 

Labour Court Judge Lady Justice Hellen Wasilwa had suspended their jail term and directed Central Organization of Trade Union (COTU) Secretary General Francis Atwoli to lead negotiations to bring an end to the industrial action.

Doctors, whose strike entered the 72nd day Monday, insisted that they wanted a full implementation of the 2013 Collective Bargaining Agreement, which the government has instead said cannot implement.

Early this month the Senate House Committee on Health chaired by Migori Senator Dr. Wilfred Machage said that the contested CBA was illegal, recommending a crafting of a return to work formula (RTWF) to end the impasse.

The Labour Relations Court earlier ordered the doctors to end their strike that started on December 5, 2016 or go to prison for one month. On their part, however, doctors wanted the court to suspend the sentence to pave way for talks.

The talks recently led by COTU secretary General Francis Atwoli flopped, Atwoli blaming it on the failure by both parties to readjust their stands.

"Negotiations will take place but you will serve your sentence after contempt of court," Wasilwa said during a ruling on Monday. I gave the sentence on conditions but the conditions have not been met to date. The interventions will proceed after my ruling from now," Lady Justice Wasilwa told the KMPDU officials.

The prosecutor had earlier asked the court to proceed with ruling saying that the doctors had not resolved the impasse.

Atwoli’s withdrawal

On Sunday, the talks that were being mediated by Central Organisation of Trade Unions (COTU) and Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) seemed to hit a dead end, with Francis Atwoli admitting that he had failed.

Atwoli said that the Ministry’s officials were rigid, while the doctors, on their part, especially those running private facilities, didn’t want to the strike to end.

Atwoli’s failure to end the strike signaled a continuation of the protracted industrial action that is in its third month, in addition to union’s officials serving jail term.

The outspoken Atwoli blamed the prolonged strike on antagonism between the two high-ranking government officials – Nicholas Muraguri (Health PS) and Cleopa Mailu (Cabinet Secretary Health).

"During the talks, we discovered that there is infighting at the Ministry of Health that involves the Cabinet Secretary Cleopa Mailu and the Principal Secretary Nicholas Muraguri. This affected our negotiations with the doctors' union," Atwoli said, urging the president to intervene and end the impasse.

KMPDU bigwigs

15 days into the strike, the Employment and Labour Relations Court found KMPDU Chairman Samuel Oroko, Secretary-General Ouma Oluga and five others guilty of contempt of court after they ordered their members to boycott work on December 5. The court had ruled otherwise on the matter.

The other officials who are now serving the sentence alongside their union officials are Daisy Korir, Evelyne Chege, Allan Ochanji, Mwachonda Chibandzi and Titus Ondoro.

On Monday soon after the tense court session, the seven officials were hand-cuffed and led to the Industrial Area Prison in Nairobi.

Justice Wasilwa's judgement followed a suit filed by the Council of Governors, which had obtained a court order stopping the industrial action that entered its 72nd day today.

A Nairobi Labour Court had suspended her sentence twice to give KMPDU jailed officials, the national and county governments time to end the impasse.

Contested 2013 CBA

Doctors on December 5th 2016 downed their tools to push the government to implement the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) they signed in 2013.

The agreement, among others, sought to improve their salaries and working conditions in public hospitals.

But the government rejected the CBA, with Senate's Public Health Committee led by Migori Senator Wilfred Machage terming it illegal.

Governors on the other hand, argued that they were not involved in the making of the 2013’s CBA, yet they currently employ 80 per cent of doctors as the function was devolved.

The Senate Health Committee recommended the abandonment of the 2013 CBA and look for an alternative as the existing document had not been signed by the Health Ministry’s Permanent Secretary Mark Bor.

Ruling criticised

Kenya's opposition  chief Raila Odinga has instructed his lawyers to immediately convene and take up the doctor’s case against the government.

Through a statement shortly after seven Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Union (KMPDU) were sentenced to one month in jail for contempt of court, Raila said he was shocked by the ruling.

He said that the action marks the lowest point that the Jubilee administration’s incompetence and inability to lead has brought the nation to.

“Rather than resolve the crisis in the health sector, the jailing of union officials deepens it and sets an extremely dangerous precedent. It marks out the government as a dishonest and unreliable employer whose word, even in writing count for nothing,” Raila said.

Way forward

In the meantime, Atwoli has urged doctors to create an ad hoc committee to face the Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs, Cabinet Secretary Cecily Kariuki to compel the doctors to forge a way forward to end the impasse.

Atwoli has also called on doctors to formulate a return to work formula through which they can apologise to the court.

“The only thing they can do in the meantime is to create that committee so that through it, they face the court with a new formula detailing how they will resume work. This must be done with a third party and so they need to approach the Ministry of Gender and Social Affairs,” he said.

He has said that he is ready to once against mediate the Am ready to resume talks only with the return to work formula and an apology to the court.

Atwoli has instead urged doctors to push for the resignation of Health PS Nicholas Muraguri, instead of the CS.

He has faulted the intruders into the talks saying that doctors are being misled in the long run.

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