Kenya: Appeal court frees jailed doctors

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The Court of Appeal in Kenya on Wednesday ordered the release of officials of the national doctors’ union to continue negotiations with the government over a strike that has paralyzed the public health sector.

This followed a consent agreement by the parties assented to by the three-man Appeal Court panel.

The 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 which started in December.

According to Kenya’s Nation newspaper, lawyers for the Council of Governors and Kenya Medical Practitioners’, Pharmacists and Dentists Union agreed to have the doctors released immediately to carry on with talks.

The negotiations aimed at ending the two-month doctors’ job boycott will be jump-started on Thursday morning, the two parties agreed before the Court of Appeal.

They are expected to craft a return-to-work formula that will be presented in court on February 23, meaning doctors may have to vacate the 2013 Collective Bargaining Agreement they have been pushing their employer to effect.

The parties agreed before a three-judge bench of Jamila Mohamed, Wanjiru Karanja and Hannah Okwengu in Nairobi on Wednesday

The Council of Governors, through lawyer Eunice Lumallas, told the judges that they have reached the consent out of goodwill.

The bench approved and recorded the consent.

The court also allowed the Law Society of Kenya to join the case and mandated it to lead the talks together with the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights.

The lower court ordered the doctors jailed on Monday amid a strike in public hospitals that has turned into a test of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s leadership ahead of August elections.

Doctors in public hospitals have been on strike since Dec. 5 over pay and conditions.

A series of corruption scandals, including an investigation into millions of dollars allegedly missing from the Health Ministry, has bolstered support for the doctors, even though Kenyan media has reported that patients have died during the strike.

A court ruled that the strike was illegal in December. In January, Justice Hellen Wasilwa sentenced leaders to jail for ignoring her earlier ruling, but suspended the sentence to allow negotiations. On Monday, she ordered union officials arrested.

“This court decides to resume its order sentencing the applicants to a one-month jail term,” she said.

The union, which has about 5,000 members, wants the government to implement a deal agreed in 2013 to give doctors a 150-180 percent pay rise on basic salaries; review working conditions, job structures and criteria for promotions and address under-staffing in state hospitals.

The government has said it can only afford a 40 percent pay rise.

The Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Dentists’ Union had warned that doctors in private hospitals might also strike if union officials were jailed.

University lecturers are also striking over pay, deepening the political crisis ahead of the elections in August when Kenyans choose their next president, members of parliament and local governors.

*Source: Kenya’s Daily Nation and Reuters

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