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Kenyan Union Official Urges Government Not to Fire Health Workers

Striking public health workers participate in a demonstration as they enter the Ministry of Health headquarters in Kenya's capital Nairobi, March 9, 2012.

The Secretary-General of the Union of Kenyan Civil Servants has called on the government to rescind its decision to fire about 25,000 striking health professionals, who the administration accuses of dereliction of duty.

Thomas Odege welcomed President Mwai Kibaki’s call for a dialogue between his administration and the leadership of the striking health workers.

Kibaki said the health workers’ strike has compromised the health of Kenyan citizens. He reassured the health workers that the government was committed to properly remunerate the medical personnel within its economic abilities.

“It’s a positive move by the government, [but] we are saying, if it is done in good faith, it will give us [an] opportunity to dig deep and axe the problem, which is affecting health workers,” said Odege. “We are asking the government to not let us go to dialogue when other workers are receiving letters asking them why disciplinary action should not be taken against them.”

The government recently announced it was sacking thousands of health workers to “alleviate further suffering of innocent Kenyans” that the strike over wages has caused. The administration described the strike as illegal.

Government spokesman Alfred Mutua said the names of the sacked health workers are being removed from the government’s payroll and that they will receive their dismissal letters soon.

“We want an opportunity to dialogue with the government, but also [ensure] the health workers are not threatened [and] that they [can] go back and work freely [and] to expect [a] positive outcome of our negotiations with the government,” said Odege. “We are asking the government that, for us to have a healing process where all Kenyans will win, we must not stop fighting [and] that we go back and dialogue.”

So far, more than 2300 health workers have received stern warning letters from the government demanding explanations why they should not be disciplined following their participation in the strike.

“If the government is calling for dialogue, which we have heard from the head of state, then they should make a better move by making it public that, so long as the workers are going back to work, let those letters be withdrawn, so that we give dialogue a chance,” said Odege. “We are demanding that the letters, which have been sent out, should be withdrawn before we go to the table so that we give dialogue a chance.”

Odege said the government needs to demonstrate goodwill in anticipation of talks to resolve differences with the striking health professionals.