Health Principal Secretary Nicholas Muraguri skipped negotiations with striking doctors and held private talks with union leaders, Cotu Secretary-General Francis Atwoli has told the Nation.
Mr Atwoli, who was last week tasked by the labour court to mediate talks between striking doctors and the government, threw in the towel last weekend, saying the infighting among top officials at the Ministry of Health made it difficult to bring sense to the negotiation table.
And on Monday, on the day doctors’ union officials were jailed for one month by the court, Mr Atwoli singled out the Health PS for blame, saying he did not support the mediation process.
Mr Muraguri was unavailable for comment on the accusations, which could further sour his relationship with Health Cabinet Secretary Cleopa Mailu.
Mr Atwoli said during negotiations to draw up a return-to-work formula — a different document from the contentious 2013 collective bargaining agreement that would have seen the doctors resume duties while negotiations continued — he realised that the PS and CS were on different pages.
“I pleaded with doctors to isolate the return-to-work formula from the agreement, which cannot be negotiated in one day,” said Mr Atwoli. “I told them that as we negotiated the agreement, we should work on an immediate document, but they refused.”
The Cotu boss said the hard-line stance taken by the doctors seemed unnatural to him, and that on digging deeper he discovered that there were more deep-rooted problems within the ministry than were laid bare by the striking doctors.
For instance, although Mr Muraguri was appointed to lead government discussions over the strike, he never showed up.
“He would instead talk to individual doctors within the union to toughen their stand on the strike,” said Mr Atwoli.
However, Dr Mailu on Monday evening denied this and said that he did not want to trivialise the matter.
“Let us avoid petty issues which will derail us from ending the strike,” he said. He said the absence of one officer (Mr Muraguri) should not stop negotiations.
Mr Atwoli further said senior doctors under the Kenya Medical Association were misadvising their juniors. The seniors were happy to see the strike drag on “as they made money” out of it.
However, the association national chairperson Jacqueline Kitulu said the strike had nothing to do with ranks, but “doctors as a whole”.
At the same time, two court-appointed mediators said limited time had hampered their drive to find a solution. The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) and Cotu said the one-week mediations had led to “settlement of over 90 per cent of the issues” in the collective bargaining agreement.
“We held talks up to 1am on Sunday and had an acceptable draft recognition agreement between the doctors and the 48 governments (central and county governments), but the time lapsed and we couldn’t conclude all the issues,” said KNCHR chairperson Kagwiria Mbogori.
She, however, refused to divulge the issues that were yet to be ironed out as she said all the parties had signed confidentiality agreements and “we are bound not to reveal or divulge pertinent information”.
As the doctors’ strike enters its 72nd day on Tuesday, the stalemate deepens, made worse by the jailing yesterday of seven union officials.
Doctors miffed by the court ruling said no negotiations would take place until their officials are released from jail.
Even then, Dr Mailu said he was ready and willing to negotiate with the appointed stand-in committee of the doctors’ union.
“Today’s events are not what we expected and now the pegs have moved further, making it harder to reach an agreement,” he said.
Looking tired and disillusioned, Mr Mailu said he was uncertain regarding what would happen next as the doctors’ demands kept coming in bits and pieces. “When one issue was solved, another one popped up,” he said.
COURT STOPPED STRIKE
On December 2, the Employment and Labour Relations Court temporarily stopped the strike to allow the dispute to be heard on December 13.
Justice Nelson Abuodha issued the orders after the Council of Governors sued the Kenya National Union of Nurses and the doctors’ union separately.
The court order warned against the strike. However, the doctors’ leaders went on and called for an industrial action on December 5 last year, and it is as a result of this contempt of court that the seven leaders were jailed on Monday.
Council of Governors chairman Peter Munya, reacting to the jailing of the union officials, said the sorry state of poor patients had compelled his team to seek legal action after county governments failed to agree with the striking doctors.
“We are still ready for negotiations because patients are still suffering,” said Mr Munya. “We should not blame anyone for the ruling because it is not going to affect the negotiations and collective bargaining agreement (CBA).”
The Meru governor asked doctors to reconsider their demands, saying the government could not afford to implement the 2013 CBA that seeks to improve doctors’ salaries and working conditions.
He urged the health workers to compare their salaries with those of others in developing countries rather than demanding what doctors are paid in developed countries.
“We should consider many factors before raising issues of [higher] salaries. Where will the country raise the money to give doctors a 300 per cent pay raise?” he posed.
©Alleastafrica and Daily Nation