Kenya’s employment and labour relations court has jailed members of the country’s doctors union for a month for failure to call off the ongoing medics strike.

Labour court Judge Hellen Wasilwa found the seven members of the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Doctors’ Union (KPMDU) in contempt of court for ignoring her earlier order that they return to work.

The doctors have been on strike since December. They are demanding higher wages and better working conditions. The strike by the doctors entered its 71st day on Monday amid stalled negotiations between the union and the Kenyan government.

Last month Judge Wasilwa sentenced the union officials to a month in jail but suspended the sentence to allow time for negotiation.

“Indeed they have also found the inability to call off the strike which they themselves called on, it is this court’s finding that there is no sufficient reason why the court should review its order and therefore this court declines to review its orders sentencing the applicants to one month jail term and the orders of this court will now crystallize. These are the orders of this court,” said judge Wasilwa.

She ordered the immediate arrest of the seven union officials and a one-month jail sentence. The officials were handcuffed and immediately whisked off to jail amid chants by their colleagues who were waiting outside the courtroom for the verdict.

More than 5,000 doctors in Kenya’s public hospitals have been on strike since December 5th. They are demanding the implementation of a Collective bargaining agreement that provides for higher wages; better working conditions and more equipment and drugs in all public hospitals.

The doctors turned down a 40% pay increment offered by government earlier in the year. With their officials now in jail, they say they will stop all negotiations with government.

An unknown number of patients have died since the strike began. Lecturers in Kenya’s public universities are also on strike demanding higher salaries.

– By Sarah Kimani