Kenyan government wants doctors' union officials freed

2017-02-14 16:30
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Nairobi - The Kenyan government on Tuesday called for the release of seven medical union officials jailed for their role in a strike that has crippled public hospitals.

While the authorities have previously sought to crack down on the strike, Health Minister Cleopa Mailu told the Senate Committee on Health that the government was now ready to "do all within its powers to get the seven freed".

The government will file a brief to an appeals court "to release the union officials so that negotiations can continue", Mailu said, more than two months into a work stoppage that has closed public hospitals and prevented access to basic care.

The labour court jailed the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentist Union officials for a month on Monday.

The sentencing prompted their union to say it was calling off talks with the government.

In an editorial on Tuesday, the prominent Daily Nation newspaper called on the authorities to swiftly "resolve this stalemate unless it wants to declare public health dead".

The court ruling, the newspaper said, "has created prisoners of conscience - and inadvertently made them heroes."

The strike, which began on December 5 in state hospitals, is taking a heavy toll on sick people, with some placed in private clinics that are too expensive for most Kenyans.

 Endemic corruption 

Representatives of some 5 000 doctors in the public sector argue that their primary demand - a four-fold increase in pay - was already part of a collective bargaining agreement signed in 2013 but never brought into effect.

Mailu told the Senate committee that the 2013 accord was defective, since county governments had not been involved and there was no go-ahead from a pay commission.

Doctors have rejected a government offer to increase their salaries by 40%, according to union officials.

The strikers, who also denounce endemic corruption, have the support of many Kenyans. Apart from their pay rise, they are demanding better equipment for public hospitals.

Press reports recently pointed out that a member of parliament earns three times as much each month $10 600 than the best-paid surgeons in the country.

With elections due in August, the doctor's strike is a thorny issue and potentially damaging for President Uhuru Kenyatta, who will be seeking a second term in office.

Read more on:    uhuru ke­n­yatta  |  kenya  |  east africa

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