Nairobi — Kenya’s Court of Appeal on Wednesday ordered the release from jail of officials from the national doctors’ union so they can negotiate with the government over a strike that has paralysed the country’s public health sector.
The strike has angered Kenyans and turned into a test of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s leadership ahead of an election in August.
The union, which has about 5,000 members, wants the government to implement a deal agreed in 2013 to give doctors a 150%-180% pay rise on basic salaries, review working conditions, job structures and criteria for promotions and address understaffing in state hospitals.
The seven union officials were ordered to serve a one-month jail term on Monday after a lower court found them guilty of contempt of court in relation to the strike that started in December.
Appellate Judge Hannah Okwengu said the officials would be released immediately. She said the parties in the labour dispute had seven days to find a resolution. "The applicants, respondents and interested parties undertake to resume negotiations forthwith, with a view to resolving the outstanding issues, in order to restore normalcy in the public health sector," she said.
The government has offered the striking doctors a 40% pay rise, which the union rejected.
The Law Society of Kenya and the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, which appeared as interested parties, were ordered to mediate the dispute and report back to the court. Opposition leader Raila Odinga said the strike had dragged for too long and blamed the government for the impasse.
Doctors in private hospitals had agreed to stop work for 48 hours from midnight on Tuesday in solidarity with the officials of the Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Dentists’ Union, which represents workers in state hospitals.