Monday, December 16, 2013

Stop playing games with Kenyans’ lives

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 15 December 2013

Last week, health workers declared a nationwide strike. This was the culmination of several weeks of activity and engagement that was largely ignored by the responsible authorities. Even without being in Kenya, one could easily have predicted the course this industrial action would take.

First, the health workers would begin complaining about things they felt strongly about. They would write to the responsible authorities and try and engage them in attempts to find a solution to the problem. The authorities would studiously ignore them, or alternatively call “consultation” forums in which they would read the riot act to the workers, informing them that their demands were unreasonable, or illegal, or even unconstitutional.

The workers would insist that their grievances are genuine, and the government would hold fast to the position that the strike was unnecessary. Eventually, things would come to a head and the workers would go on strike. The government would let the strike fester for a day or two, perhaps hoping that the strikers would tire or “come to their senses” somehow.

After waiting in vain for a change of heart, the government would go to court seeking to declare the strike illegal. As a matter of course, the courts would oblige and declare the strike illegal, or issue some form of injunction or other. This would be done late on a Friday evening, or on the eve of a public holiday, so that there is no time for the striking workers to appeal the decision. 

Spirit of give and take

For a while, the workers would ignore the orders, until the government agrees to come to the negotiating table. After several hours of frenetically paced talks, an agreement would be reached and a return to work formula announced to the public. In the spirit of give and take, the workers would gain some benefits, and the government would save face.

Unfortunately this pattern is repeated every time there is a problem in any labour sector. More tragically, it is allowed to happen in the crucial health sector, where every minute of industrial action puts lives at risk. The government, under the labour laws, identifies health as an essential service in which strike action is prohibited, but provides little recourse for aggrieved workers in the sector.

This provision unfortunately gives the minister (in consultation with the National Labour Board) virtually unfettered powers to declare any service an “essential service”, in effect denying workers in that sector their constitutional right to strike. This often emboldens employers who neglect workers in the sector, safe in the knowledge that they cannot withdraw their services.

The best illustration of this scenario is the health sector. Apart from being hobbled by the Hippocratic Oath that puts the life of patients above all other considerations, the health sector is also declared an essential service in which strikes are prohibited. As a result, health workers have been virtually reduced to superintendents over death and suffering they can do little to assuage. This situation has only marginally improved in the recent past with the emergence of health workers’ unions that have agitated both for their own welfare and that of their patients.

The government needs to realise that we cannot continue playing Russian roulette with the lives of Kenyans. A healthy health workforce guarantees a healthy population, and that should mean something to those in power. 

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and senior lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine. lukoye@gmail.com

1 comment:

  1. Name: Andrew Ryan Creekmore
    College: UT Dallas
    His Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Andrew.RyanC
    His Google Plus profile: https://plus.google.com/113647228873679321488/posts

    He studied psychiatry at UT Dallas. Unknown if he is currently practicing psychiatry.

    He uses heroin regularly and also visits prostitutes regularly. Also uses marijuana daily.

    This is a warning to any of his present or future patients/employers, so that they can be pre-warned that this person is of very dubious character. He has a high likelihood of abusing illegal drugs, stealing company money for drug use or prostitute use, and has a high risk of sexually abusing his patients or co-workers.

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