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Kenya

Court ruling tries to force striking Kenyan doctors back to work

A judge in Nairobi has ruled that union representatives must end the ongoing doctors' strike in five days or be jailed. Doctors walked off the job 52 days ago to demand higher wages.

The Employment and Labor Court in Kenya has ruled that officials belonging to the Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) must bring their organized strike to an end or face jail time. The union launched the nationwide action 52 days ago to demand that the Kenyan government implement a 2013 agreement to grant doctors a 300 percent pay hike and better working conditions. The strike has had a significant effect on medical care all over the country.

Everyone was silent in the courtroom as Justice Hellen Wasilwa delivered her ruling. She stated that her goal was not to send anyone to jail but to bring an "amicable solution" to the strike.

"I have suspended this sentence further so the doctors will not be going to jail. They have five more days and these five more days are for calling off the strike," she said. "You are allowed to continue with the negotiations."

Mixed reactions

After the ruling, the doctors' union officials were greeted with jubilation by over 5,000 supporters outside the labor courts. Many were doctors wearing their white coats and scrubs. They then proceeded to hold a large demonstration on the streets of Nairobi, bringing traffic to a standstill.

Evans Ryako was marching in solidarity with the doctors and questioned what sort of government would want to send trade unionists to prison.

"This collective bargaining agreement is not only about salaries. There are matters to do with universal healthcare, to do with working conditions, so it encompasses a lot of areas," he said.

Another doctor at the march who preferred not to give his name said that they were fighting for the rights of Kenyans for better health care in public facilities.

"Where we work there are a lot of facilities which are missing," he said. "We need to go back and serve the citizens. It is not about the pay."

Will the strike continue?

The doctors are demanding a 300 percent pay hike under a collective bargaining agreement reached with the government in 2013. At the moment, Kenyans seeking urgent medical attention have been forced to visit expensive private hospitals.

Some analysts are questioning whether the strike will have an effect on the general elections scheduled for August.

"We really don't want to be on the streets but we have to do what we have to do," said Dr Millicint Wanjiru. "The doctors are only trying to fight for what is right, they have not done anything wrong so we don't see why the courts want to jail them."

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