7 December 2012

Kenya: Uon Puts State On the Spot Over Union Pacts

Nairobi — University of Nairobi Vice Chancellor George Magoha has asked the government to learn to honour return-to-work agreements it seal with unions.

Magoha spoke against the backdrop of two days of picketing by his staff at the start of the week, which nearly forced cancellation of the university's 48th graduation ceremony.

The Universities Academic Staff Union (UASU) and the Universities Non-teaching Staff Union (UNTESU) called for the industrial action just two months after their last strike.

"The two-day stoppage of work at this university early this week in the name of picketing almost paralysed this graduation ceremony. To avoid such situations in future I'm requesting the government to prioritise agreements with unions so that relations do not deteriorate to the level of withdrawing labour."

Following a two-week strike by university workers in September, the government agreed to a 33 percent salary and 14 percent housing allowance increase.

The increments backdated to July 2010 and binding until June 2013 will cost the tax payer Sh7.8 billion and is to be implemented in two phases after Finance Minister Njeru Githae cautioned that there was not enough money to implement the increments in full in the current fiscal year.

The first phase of Sh3.9 billion was to be paid out on November 30. A delay led union officials to accuse the university management and Higher Education Minister Margaret Kamar of playing games alleging Treasury released the first tranche in October.

The University of Nairobi's management however sought to deflect this blame to the government. The University Chancellor, Joe Wanjui expressed relief at the industrial action's speedy resolution in time for the university's graduation ceremony.

"I would like to commend all parties for ensuring a quick resolution of the recent industrial action between our staff and the university council and our government."

Magoha however took issue with the way the picketing was conducted.

He also asked the government to take firm action against those who victimise workers for refusing to down their tools echoing Medical Services Minister Anyang Nyong'o who on Tuesday complained of striking nurses harassing those who reported for duty.

"It is also a constitutional right to refuse to join a strike. We will not condone the beating of lecturers because they refuse to strike...I could not even work from my office."

Wanjui, concurred with Magoha, called for more patience from the university staff.

"I however appeal to staff to always exercise more patience and embrace dialogue and negotiation before resorting to industrial action."

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