When tough guys take on doctors, guess who loses

Tuesday March 14 2017


By Muthoni Wanyeki

After years of tensions, the national executive and the Council of Governors have finally found common cause: Namely, their shared desire to put an end to the doctors’ strike.

This new-found friendship was asserted most forcefully. First, by a statement from the presidency — shocking in both its tone and its circumvention of what had become a court-supervised mediation process. And second, by the supposed laying down of the law by the Council of Governors.

Doctors were ordered back to work by Wednesday. On risk of losing their jobs — the blithe assertion being that, following a headcount of who was back and who wasn’t, new hires could be done from the region or internationally.

All ground covered by the mediation was thrown out and the doctors were basically told: “Take it or leave it.” Worryingly, not through collective bargaining, but through individual negotiations with their individual places of work.

It is unclear what is going to happen now. The Inter-Religious Council reported to the court that it had fulfilled its role of mediator. Pending only conclusion of the return-to-work formula. The recognition agreement between the counties and the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists’ Union is ready to be signed. As is the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

So why the sudden belligerent stance by the executive and Governors? Their accusation that the KMPDU simply wanted more pay than its members could get in private practice (untrue)? Their accusation that the KMPDU had continually shifted goalposts throughout the mediation?

It can only be put down to an unwillingness on the part of the state to actually sign the CBA and deposit it before the Industrial Court. Which the KMPDU has insisted on as a condition for ending the strike. And, in this, it has to be said, it is most reasonable and wise. For it is in the nature of our state to deal with industrial action by seeming to concede. And then never implementing what it has conceded.

What the KMPDU also wants is an implementation plan for all the other areas covered by the CBA. On recruitments to improve the doctor-patient ratio and bring it closer to recommended international standards. On deployments and promotions. On training. On equipment. All of this was agreed to in principle. But, again. It is in the nature of our state to concede when pushed to the wall. And then never to implement what it has conceded.

That being the case, the latest tough-guy posturing by both the executive and the Council of Governors can only be said to be most unhelpful.

Progress had been made. And now everybody’s back in their opposing corners, goodwill squandered, with the doctors being deliberately maligned, framed as greedy and unreasonable — when not being framed as acting at the behest of shadowy (presumably political opposition) forces. With people who can only afford to access public health facilities bearing the brunt.

L. Muthoni Wanyeki is Amnesty International’s regional director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes