Two officials of the Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) have been fined Sh10,000 each by the Employment and Labour Relations Court for contempt.
Dr Ouma Oluga, the union’s secretary-general and the South Rift branch secretary Davji Bhinji Atella were on Thursday fined by Justice Nzioki wa Makau in Nyeri for disobeying court orders requiring them to call off a strike by Laikipia doctors in June, this year.
Dr Atella, who is said to be in Egypt, was sentenced in absentia. They had been summoned to appear in court on November 12, 2019.
In his mitigation, Dr Oluga said he was remorseful and that his failure to appear in court was not intentional.
He said that he was a first time offender and pledged to never again disobey court orders.
Dr Oluga explained that according to the union’s constitution, calling off a strike requires voting by the National Advisory Council.
“It is not within powers of the secretary-general to call off a strike. The National Advisory Council must meet and take a vote. The vote must be at least 75 per cent of the council members for the strike be called off,” he explained.
But justice Makau told him: “The orders of the court must be obeyed. Your argument of the union constitution is not good because those provisions are contrary to the law.”
The judge said the court cannot shy away from its responsibility to deal firmly with proved contemnors.
The court had on June 14, 2019 ordered suspension of the Laikipia doctors’ strike which had started in May.
Justice Makau had also declared the strike by the 62 doctors unprotected and directed Dr Oluga and Dr Atella to call it off.
But the two never obeyed the order, forcing the county government to file contempt proceedings.
“Dr Oluga, having issued the strike notice, was under obligation upon service of the court order to ensure the union members immediately resume duty in compliance with the order,” the county government, through county secretary Karanja Njora, told the court.
Talks between the union and the government on labour issues in dispute also failed to take place because of the union’s leadership failure to call off the strike.
“Such talks could not take place before the respondents comply with the order. Dr Oluga and Dr Atella ought to be punished for wilful disobedience of the court orders,” stated Mr Njora.
The union argued that there was no positive order directed to the two leaders to call off the strike.