The Kenyan government fired 25,000 striking health care workers on Thursday, including nurses, lab technicians, and dental assistants.

The workers went on strike at the start of the month to fight for better pay, joining doctors from public hospitals who began protesting in December.

On Tuesday, the government ordered everyone to go back to work, threatening to sack those who didn't. Labor unions reportedly then made a deal with the government, but when thousands of workers disobeyed the state made good on its threat.

The government has taken this firm action to alleviate further suffering of innocent Kenyans. It is wrong and unethical, regardless of any disagreement, for a health profession to abscond duty and lead to the loss of life and or suffering of any patient, Government spokesman Alfred Mutua told The Associated Press.

Mutua then added that any unemployed medical professional should apply for jobs at their nearest hospitals on Friday.

Alex Orina, spokesman for the Kenya Health Professionals Society, called the firing a bluff, telling reporters that hospitals were already under-staffed before the strike began.

These are cat-and-mouse games, you cannot sack an entire workforce. It is a ploy to get us to rush back to work, but our strike continues until our demands are met, Orina told Reuters.

A total of 40,000 health workers, most of them nurses, went on strike on March 1. They are demanding a pay increase as much as double the current average salary, and better allowances for matters like travel and equipment.

Orina told the Associated Press that, for example, nurses in some hospitals had to deliver babies without surgical gloves.

The Kenyan government has claimed that five people died during the strike, but could have been saved if doctors and nurses were working.