Today (17 Feb 2017) is day 75 of the ongoing doctors strike that has caused mayhem and raised temperatures everywhere. I thought I’d give my 2 cents worth.
My first instinct is to support the doctors because the public health sector is in serious need of overhaul. The doctors have complained of understaffed and under equipped hospitals leading them to simply ‘preside over death’ in their own words. In some cases basic supplies like gloves are not available, endangering the doctors and patients lives. Medicines are not available so patients have prescriptions they cannot fill, or they have to go to private pharmacies which they may not afford.
The doctors are demanding a pay increase which they say the government promised in their Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) signed in 2013. This increase has been reported to be as high as 300% in the media. The government has offered a 40% increase and insists no CBA was ever signed and therefore this is not a legal document. The increment has been refused by the doctors. Resulting in a stalemate with the public caught in between. Are the doctors greedy or is the government unreasonable?
The negotiating process is made more complicated by the fact of devolution which has been implemented starting 2013 in accordance with the new constitution voted in 2010. So who are the negotiating parties? Doctors and county governments? Or doctors and the national government?
This strike has made me look up all kinds of articles on unions, governance, civil society,politics and power. There is no government (or any employer) that will just give its people some kind of benefit without them demanding it. Thus the necessity of the existence of unions and civil society organizations. Power cannot go unchecked otherwise it will go to all sorts of extremes. As the famous saying goes, power corrupts. And absolute power corrupts absolutely. That’s why the executive always has to have checks on it’s power, mostly in form of the judiciary. But if the judiciary is compromised, it absconds this duty and starts behaving like an arm of the executive, enforcing its power against the hapless citizens.
When Judge Hellen of the labour court carried out her threat to jail the leaders of the doctors union, this is what it looked like to me. Fortunately enough everyone was horrified at this event which made its way into the international media. Ministry of Health officials relented, the decision was appealed at the Supreme court level and the union officials were released 2 days later. As it stands now the matter is in the Supreme court docket.
In retrospect I don’t fault her decision. She was acting in accordance with standard procedure that has been followed in these cases. We have seen this in cases of teachers union strikes and the ongoing lecturers strike. The governments MO is to take a hard stance, after a while salaries will not be paid, the strikers feel the pinch and eventually relent and go back to work with no or very little concession from the government.
My only prayer is that the public interest remains well represented so that at the end of this saga we don’t have well paid doctors going back to work in hospitals that are still not equipped to deliver the services required.
I must state that in this period my son fell sick at some point and being the middle class insured Kenyan that I am I was able to take him to a private hospital where he was promptly treated. So the people suffering in this whole scenario are poor Kenyans who compose a big section of the population. I pray for their sake,and mine also, that the resulting consensus provides a solution that will bring a much needed overhaul to the public health sector that will bring relief to all Kenyans.
Day 88 – 2nd March 2017
A scheduled update was given today in the Supreme court following the last mention on 15th February. Still no consensus has been arrived at. The faith based organisations are now involved in the mediating effort (taking over from the KNHCR and LSK) through an inter religious body known as the Inter Religious Council of Kenya. The presiding Judge Martha caused laughter when she expressed her relief at the involvement of the church, saying this is a matter that requires divine intervention.
The parties have asked for 2 more days to enable them reach a consensus and a mention date has been set for next Tuesday (7th March). Once again there was an emphasis on the unresolved issues being salary and training for the doctors. Where is the public’s interest in all this?
See local media coverage on this here.
Day 93 – 7th March 2017
Still no deal.There is a sense of exhaustion with the never ending process now. I did not see live coverage of the court proceedings as has happened before.
The inter religious council that was acting as mediator reported that the deal was 98% done and only one or two issues needed to be agreed on. Interestingly, this is the same thing the previous mediators had said. So they’re are some sticky issues that are apparently proving to be quite….sticky.
The government presents the issue to be all about the money but the doctors insist that its about more than that. The government has become increasingly hostile, accusing the doctors of taking them for fools. They have fired some doctors and threatened to replace them with foreigners.
I’m so disheartened to see how the negotiations have degenerated into power and ego plays, though I suppose that’s to be expected. What about the issue at hand, the health sector that needs reviving? There is of course a more over arching issue at hand which is what is more and more being described as a crisis of capitalism, described in this article here more eloquently than I ever could.
It reminds me of the famous illustration of wise King Solomon arbitrating between 2 women to decide who the child belonged to. He ordered that the child be killed so that the real mother could be revealed.
My fellow Kenyans, the child belongs to all of us and we need him/her to stay alive and grow for all our benefit. Let us come together and chart the best way forward for the good of all.
14 March 2017
Today is day 100 of the strike and it looks like there is a deal. Finally. The speculation is that the government’s hand was forced since the president is due to give a state of the nation address tomorrow.