Kenya’s doctors union announced last week that a planned seven-week strike would continue as long as needed in order to secure demands related to pay and working conditions. This in light of a recent court ruling that ordered an end to the strike and a return to work in five days or union leaders may face jail sentences.

Several thousand doctors and their supporters marched from the courts to the centre of Nairobi where leaders of the Kenya Medical Practitioners Pharmacists and Dentists’ Union (KMPDU) refused the time limit placed by the court order.

“We are, you know… appalled by how long this strike has been mishandled by particularly the Ministry of Health, particularly now lately by a Cabinet Secretary who is very keen on frustrating every single effort, in fact I think that it his greatest wish that we should go to jail and that is an attitude that we as the doctors have completely rejected and I think for this process to be complete, we do not want to engage with him again.

“As a fact, I think he should just resign, or be sacked, he must go because we are not going to sit down and talk with people who are lying to the whole country when Kenyans are suffering,” Ouko Olunga, secretary general of the doctors union.

Justice Hellen Wasilwa had initially handed union leaders a suspended one-month sentence on January 12 after they defied a December ruling declaring the strike illegal. But she gave them a two-week period for negotiations to avoid jail.

In Thursday’s ruling she gave them another five days in which to end the strike or face contempt of court.

“So I will suspend this sentence further, so the doctors will not be going to jail today. They have five more days and these five days is not for negotiation in my view, it’s for calling off the strike because I am dealing with the case for contempt,” said Wasilwa.

The union is demanding the fulfilment of a 2013 agreement which it says awarded doctors a 150-180 percent pay rise on basic salaries, a review of working conditions and promotions criteria, as well as hiring of more staff in state hospitals.

The East African state’s government says it can only afford a 40 percent pay rise but would work to meet other conditions.