Doctors hit Kenyan streets in protest as talks with the government collapse

Amidst crumbling negotiations, a surge of discontented doctors flooded the streets, their frustration palpable as talks between their union and the court-appointed committee swiftly disintegrated.

Displaying their ire outside the Ministry of Health’s Afya House headquarters, the doctors resorted to picketing, brandishing banners and sounding whistles before advancing towards Parliament buildings, the Treasury, and ultimately the Council of Governors offices in Westlands.

Earlier that Friday morning, after a grueling seven-hour discussion, both parties emerged only to offer conflicting statements to the media.

Public Service Head, Felix Koskei, officially asserted the absence of a doctors’ strike, albeit acknowledging the discussion of certain issues raised by the doctors.

“We have been convened here since 5 pm following the court’s order to engage with KMPDU and other stakeholders. We engaged intensely and amicably on numerous issues,” stated Koskei.

“Clearly, there were 19 concerns triggering the strike, which we discussed and agreed could be resolved through mutual understanding. These concerns span various districts, the national government, and specific hospitals,” he added.

However, this declaration was promptly refuted by officials from the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Union (KMPDU), maintaining the continuity of their nationwide strike.

“Our strike remains active until our demands are met. We recognize the efforts and sacrifices made by each member and assure you that your endeavors are not futile,” affirmed Davji Atellah, the Secretary General of KMPDU.

The meeting had been convened following a directive by the Employment and Labour Relations Court, urging an end to the strike and participation in the talks on Thursday.

In attendance were cabinet secretaries Njuguna Ndung’u (Treasury), Moses Kuria (Public Service), Florence Bore (Labour and Social Protection), alongside representatives from the Public Service Commission (PSC), Salaries and Remuneration Commission, and the Council of Governors, as mandated by the court.

President William Ruto had earlier chaired a crisis meeting of the Cabinet to address the escalating crisis in the health sector.

Before journalists exited the meeting room, Head of Civil Service Felix Koskei appealed for reconciliation, emphasizing the president’s desire for an amicable resolution. Linus Kariuki, the committee chairman, outlined the 19 grievances fueling the union’s strike.

However, sources familiar with the talks revealed a hardline stance adopted by the government, urging doctors to return to work as they claimed nothing more could be offered beyond current provisions.

Recognizing the impasse, both parties agreed to schedule another meeting facilitated by the government to break the deadlock.

“The government acknowledges that the raised issues are within its jurisdiction. Hence, we await further engagement,” disclosed a source within KMPDU. He also revealed plans for another meeting on Friday afternoon, which did not materialize.

Among the enumerated grievances were failures by medical training universities to sign recognition agreements and remit union dues, unharmonized clinical allowances, inadequate medical coverage provision, and unresolved negotiations between Kenyatta National Hospital and SRC for the 2021/25 CBA. The government was also faulted for non-compliance with court decisions and directives.

Addressing the press post-morning talks, Kenya Medical and Dentists Union Secretary General Dr. Davji Atellah censured the government for exploiting doctors’ goodwill.

“We had a framework signed by all concerned parties last year, yet 13 months have passed with no implementation,” he lamented.

During subsequent protests, Dr. Davji vowed prolonged strikes until all 19 grievances are satisfactorily addressed, promising further demonstrations in the coming days.