A Kenyan labour court on Monday sentenced doctors’ union officials to one month in jail after they failed to call off their strike which has lasted more than 70 days.
Justice Hellen Wasilwa of the Employment and Labour Relations Court had directed the seven Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) officials to end their strike or go to prison and serve a one month sentence.
However, the doctors who have been on strike since Dcember 5, 2016 urged the judge to suspend the sentence to allow them more time to negotiate with the government.
The judge ruled that the officials will serve their sentence for contempt of court as such negotiations to end the strike continue.
“Negotiations will take place but you will serve your sentence after contempt of court,” Justice Wasilwa ruled. However, they have an option or paying a fine instead of custodial sentence.
She said the court had no option but to effect the jail term but told the medics that they have the right to appeal the ruling at the Court of Appeal.
“There is no sufficient reason why the court should review its order. The orders of this court will now crystallize and you can now start serving your sentences,” The judge said after suspending ruling on two previous occasions to allow the doctors’ union officials to continue with negotiation.
The judge said the court cannot be intimidated adding the parties were unwilling to negotiate especially after she had suspended their jail term and directed Central Organization of Trade Union (COTU) Secretary General Francis Atwoli to lead negotiations to bring an end to the industrial action.
“I gave the sentence on conditions but the conditions have not been met to date. The interventions will proceed after my ruling from now,” she said,
The ruling follows several ultimatums issued by the court that lapsed without any agreement reached between the union and the government.
The government through its lawyers had insisted that medics call off their strike to end the suffering of patients in hospitals.
The standoff between the KMPDU and the government continues with union officials maintaining a hard-liner stance, refusing to call off the strike until the 2013 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) is fully implemented.
KMPDU is demanding a 300 percent salary increase for its members as agreed in the CBA says the lowest paid doctor to get earn 3,450 U.S. dollars while the highest should be earning 9,450 dollars.
However, the government has offered a 500 dollars or 40 percent increase for the lowest paid doctors, which would have raised their salaries to 1,760 dollars but unions rejected it and walked out of talks.
The doctors say the industrial action was occasioned by three-year industrial dispute concerning the disputed CBA signed on June 27, 2013 and effective July 1, 2013.
They accuse the government side of failing to show any good will in the negotiation process but instead threatening them with law suits. Enditem