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Doctors’ CBA illegal, Senate team says

Wednesday February 1 2017

Senate Health Committee, led by chairman

Senate Health Committee, led by chairman Wilfred Machage (centre), in session on November 8, 2016. The team met senior officials from the Ministry of Health on Wednesday over the ongoing doctors' strike. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

DENNIS ODUNGA
By DENNIS ODUNGA
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Doctors have been asked to stop pushing for a salary agreement that has already been declared illegal by the courts.

The Senate Health Committee observed that the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) the doctors want implemented has been overtaken by events and will derail efforts to end the strike.

"They can't hang on an illegal document. Nobody has prevented doctors from coming up with another legal document," committee chairman Wilfred Machage said on Wednesday at Parliament.

The committee met senior officials from the Ministry of Health on Wednesday over the ongoing doctors' strike.

Lawmakers had expressed concern about the government's failure to strike a compromise with the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union almost two months after the strike started.

Dr Machage said the strike has affected many Kenyans who cannot afford health services at private hospitals.

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"[A] majority of Kenyans have turned to quacks, and traditional birth attendants. This will worsen the situation," he said.

SACKING THREATS

Nominated Senator Godliver Omondi criticised President Uhuru Kenyatta for concentrating on mobilising Kenyans to register as voters at the expense of core challenges facing his government.

“How can one register as a voter if a member of his family is sick and cannot access treatment or is being threatened with jail yet the family sold land to take him to a medical school,” Ms Omondi said.

Dr Machage said the government should not assume that private hospitals have stepped in to mitigate against the strike because there are few of them in the country and their charges are out of reach for many patients.

He appealed to the national and county governments to stop threatening to sack the doctors for failing to call off the strike, saying such a move would worsen the crisis.

“This is easy for employer and labour relations but totally nonsense on matters of health because people are suffering.

"Medical services can’t be taken arbitrarily as any other services. This is a sensitive service that affects life,” Dr Machage said.

He said the committee is aware of plans by the Ministry of Health to sack all the doctors under the national government.

Governors have also announced they would resort to hiring doctors on a three-year renewable contract as opposed to the current permanent work terms.

But the committee said doctors are in high demand in other countries and will not be jobless for long if sacked.

He said training a doctor is an expensive venture and it is not wise for a government that values the health of its people to resort to such actions.

SALARIES AGENCY BLAMED

The meeting comes even as a group of senators blamed the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) for the spate of strikes in the country.

Led by Mandera Senator Billow Kerrow, the lawmakers said it has been difficult to negotiate with workers whenever there is a strike, because of a hard stance taken by the SRC.

“Ministries faced with strikes over salaries have a limited role when negotiating the CBAs because the SRC has set the salaries and are not ready to review them,” Mr Kerrow said.

The SRC, he said, should not just dismiss agreements entered into long before the commission was formed as such a move would frustrate efforts to find a lasting solution to the crisis.

“There are serious questions about the pro-activeness of [the] SRC on these issues. Being an independent constitutional commission, they need to take a keen interest to ensure all Kenyans access quality medication,” he said.

The commission has also been accused of not being impartial in its work, with critics saying the agency has allowed politicians to enjoy hefty packages after they got the commission to drop its initial ceilings.