A Kenyan appeals court has ordered the release of doctors union officials jailed earlier this week for refusing to end their three-month strike. Kenyan legal experts and rights groups will now take the lead in a fresh round of negotiations between doctors and the government to end the strike.
The seven doctors' union officials spent two days behind bars, after being sentenced to one month in jail Monday.
A three-judge bench ordered their release Wednesday, after Kenya's council of governors and union lawyers agreed to continue talks.
“Appellants one to eight in civil appeal number 9 of 2017 shall be released forthwith from prison pending the hearing of the appeal," said the bench. "Two of the applicants, respondents and interested parties undertake to resume negotiations forthwith with the view of resolving the outstanding issues in order to restore normalcy in the public sector.”
The court ordered the Law Society of Kenya and Kenya National Commission on Human Rights that will be leading the talks to submit a report next week with the aim of calling off the month-long doctors' strike.
After the ruling, the cry of striking doctors in the streets rings out, "CBA." The Collective Bargaining Agreement was signed in 2013 between the union and government representatives.
The deal covers a range of issues, including improving working conditions for the doctors, improved health facilities and security for medical staff.
Several attempts to end the strike through dialogue have failed, with doctors refusing a 40 percent salary increase. In solidarity with their colleagues, doctors working in private hospitals have agreed not to serve patients for two days.
The court hopes the union will call off the strike within seven days.
Policy analyst Boaz Munga says it is not easy to solve the grievances in one week.
“But seven days is surely enough for them to negotiate a return to work formula, which means they can go back to work after negotiating and then the other pending issues will be sorted out... but not ironing out all the issues contained in collective bargaining agreement,” he said.
Munga also says as the country approaches an election, the doctors feel this may be the only chance for them to get what they want.
“The many workers in our country have realized that perhaps the best time to try to arm-twist the government, which does not seem to listen to you at other times, is when we are approaching an election,” he said.
A new round of talks is expected to begin Thursday.