Are doctors headed back to jail? Doctors now have till Tuesday to end 99-day-long strike, court

The withdrawal of the earlier 40 per cent salary increment to doctors last week worsened the situation as doctors argued that they had agreed on numerous issues with the doctors, with a few issues pending, before they could resume work.

 

A three judge bench at the Court of Appeal convened by Hannah Okwengu, Martha Koome and Jamilla Mohammed has asked the mediating team to quickly reach an agreement including a return to work formula document that would be presented by doctors.

In its ruling, the three judges have also slammed the Ministry of Health and demanded that they lower their ego to facilitate and ensure an agreement is reached.

The three judges have, however, warned that if the parties involved in resolving the stalemate failed to reach a solution by Tuesday, the matter will be taken back to the Employment and Labour Relations Court. The Labour Court is where all matters pertaining to employment and collective bargaining agreement issues are heard and agreements filed.

The judges also said that the court will deal with the appeal on the jail sentence earlier imposed on the doctors’ union’s officials and later suspended after Tuesday. Last month, Lady Justice Helen Wasilwa put doctors’ union officials behind bars for contempt of court.

Earlier, doctors failed to honor the directive by the court to call of the strike, prompting the court to jail them for one month, only to serve the sentence for two days, after the Kenya Commission on Human Rights and the Law Society of Kenya were enjoined in the negotiations. The negotiations collapsed even with the entry of high level counsels, including senior Counsel and Siaya Senator James Orengo.

Today’s (Monday) ruling comes even as after the doctors’ union officials brandished a return to work formula, almost as week after the presidency and the office of the council of governors ruled out any possibility of engaging in discussions with doctors, unless they resumed work.

In the meanwhile, if governors, who have held that the doctors’ strike is illegal, and the Health ministry agree to sign the return to work agreement draft presented by the doctors, the strike will be called off immediately.

To the shock of doctors, however, the lawyer representing the Health ministry and the Attorney-General, Stella Mbitho, told a full packed court that the government had withdrawn its offer to the doctors as well as its draft return to work formula agreement.

No light yet

At the same time, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNHCR) asked the State to consider having the return to work formula agreement signed so that the strike could be called off as soon as possible.

Religious leaders on their part vowed to continue mediating talks between the government and the doctors, despite a slumber on the doctors’ part to take part in the negotiations.

In a last week mention of the doctor’s strike case, appellate judges Hannah Okwengu, Martha Koome and Kantai ole Sankale directed the Health ministry, governors and the doctors’ union officials to finalise the signing of three key documents to end the strike.

The three-judge bench led by Lady Justice Koome, had also tasked religious leaders and the union officials to lead the parties into the signing of the recognition agreement, revised collective bargaining agreement and the return to work formula at the governors summit in Naivasha.

But the religious leaders had told the Court of Appeal that despite an agreement being reached on the financial aspect of the disputed CBA, there was still a disagreement on which of the three documents should be signed first.

The doctors wanted the CBA to come first owing to fears that they may be short-changed a second time but the Health ministry and county bosses wanted the return to work formula and the recognition agreement to be dealt with first.

The judges had congratulated the religious leaders for making the parties in the dispute reach a settlement on money issues which for a long time had been the bone of contention.

Through the religious leaders’ input, the union had agreed to take President Uhuru Kenyatta's offer to increase their risk and emergency call allowances which would have seen the doctors wage bill increase to Sh14.5 billion.

The judges were optimistic that parties would record a consent in court this Monday on having the matter settled and that doctors would finally call off the strike.

But soon after the court proceedings on Tuesday last week, the government and the governors said they will not be holding any further talks with doctors and cancelled all offers made to them.

Doctors were also asked to resume duty with immediate effect or be sacked. Already Kenyatta National Hospital axed a dozen workers as it mounted a heavy investigation against 498 others for boycotting work despite the institution’s directive illegalizing the industrial action.

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