A court has declared the Kirinyaga doctors’ strike illegal and unprotected and allowed Governor Anne Waiguru to take disciplinary action against the health workers.
In a ruling on Thursday, justice Nzioki wa Makau of the Employment and Labour Relations Court noted that the Labour Act requires medics to provide essential services.
Therefore, the judge said, industrial action should be a last resort only taken when all other avenues for dispute resolution have been exhausted.
Four unions - Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU); Kenya National Union of Nurses (Knun), Kenya National Union of Clinical Officers and Kenya National Union of Medical Laboratory - called the strike on May 20.
They complained of poor operations at Kerugoya County Referral Hospital, saying it was dirty, had dysfunctional machines and lacked reagents for laboratory tests.
The unions also noted that the government had been adamant about reinstating Kerugoya's 346 health casual workers who were sacked in a bid to reduce the ballooning wage bill, and about paying the salaries of four doctors pursuing masters degrees.
The doctors further claimed all the health facilities in the county were understaffed yet the government was unwilling to employee more workers to relieve those who are overworked.
The judge noted that in calling the strike, the unions did not follow procedures detailed in their Collective Bargaining Agreement and a recognition agreement they and the county signed.
The agreements states that disputes must first be solved amicably, through consultations and negotiations, before workers down their tools.
In the event the negotiations fail, the disputes are to be resolved under the provisions of the Labour Relations Act.
Governor Waiguru’s government filed a suit, seeking the order that was granted on Thursday.
It complained that the unions called the strike without affording the employer an opportunity to address doctors' problems.
County lawyer Rono Kibet also noted that the organisations failed to notify the Labour Cabinet Secretary for purposes of appointment of a conciliator.
According to sections 76 and 78 of the Labour Relations Act, the unions should have awaited the outcome of a conciliation process before going on strike.
“It is trite law that when a dispute resolution mechanism is available to parties, such a mechanism should be exhausted before parties can resolve to industrial action,” stated Mr Kibet.
During the hearing, the medics’ lawyer, Wachika Ochima, was denied audience after the judge noted that the strike was not suspended as justice Maureen Onyango ordered on May 26.