17 May 2018

Kenya: Lecturers Back to Class After 78-Day Strike Over Pay

Photo: Ouma Wanzala/The Nation
University Academic Staff Union Secretary-General Constantine Wasonga and Inter Public Universities Councils Consultative Forum Chairman Paul Kanyari exchange documents after signing a return to work formula.

Nairobi — The Universities Academic Staff Union (UASU) has signed a return to work formula with the government, ending a 78-day strike by public university lecturers that commenced on March 1.

The union however, rejected the proposed 0.44 per cent annual salary increment vowing to "apply complementary mechanisms" to achieve the 2017-2021 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) whose negotiation has been at the centre of the industrial action.

"Today, therefore, in line with the NEC resolution, UASU has rejected the counter-offer, and signed a Return to Work Formula with IPUCCF," the union's Secretary General Dr Constatine Wasonga said in a statement issued on Thursday night.

"The return to work formula protects academic staff and union officials from victimisation for participating in the industrial action," he added, and explained that they decided to call off the strike "to save the country's higher education sector from collapse."

UASU, rejected a 1.75 per cent salary increment for four years covering the 2017-2021 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) arguing that the offer which translated to 0.44 per cent annual salary increment did not meet the union's proposal.

"All disciplinary letters written during the pendency of the industrial action have been withdrawn; and all outstanding salaries will be paid, including March, April, and May salaries," he added.

Wasonga said UASU will "apply complementary mechanisms" to achieve the 2017-2021 CBA whose negotiation has been at the centre of the industrial action, the fourth by lectures in public universities in just under fifteen months.

Speaking at the signing ceremony of the return-to-work formula, Inter Public Universities Councils Consultative Forum (IPUCCF) Chairperson Prof Paul Kanyari assured that no lecturer will be victimized for engaging in work boycott over the past two and a half months.

"There will be no victimization for members of UASU arising from the industrial action. There will be no job losses or loss of benefits," he said adding that both IPUCCF and UASU had agreed to with immediate effect withdraw court cases pertaining the industrial action.

Prof Kanyari said university councils will adjust semester dates "as appropriate and practical" to compensate learners for lost learning time during the January-April semester.

He further stated that the renewal of contracts for lecturers shall not be prejudiced by participation in the 78-day work boycott.

IPUCCF also assured that it would follow up on outstanding employer pension components for the 2010-2013 and 2013-2017 Finacial Years.

The announcement to call off the strike came a day ahead of the anticipated release of an inter-ministerial committee report on the management of public universities in the country.

The team gazzeted by Education Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed on April 10 was tasked with reviewing management and staffing policies with the sole aim of recommending an efficient way of managing public universities.

"Time has come to make resolute and necessary decisions to restore the quality of learning in our universities. Most of these decisions will be unpopular but of immense value to the future of this country and our children and so we will go ahead and make these decisions," the CS Amina said on April 26 ahead of the committee's inaugural meeting.

"Our engagement now will set in place mechanisms for an entire reorganization of the university sector to cater for the needs of every player with the most important focus being restoring the quality and competitiveness of our university education and the caliber of university professors and graduates," she promised.

Thursday's deal was inked following a day-long meeting at the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, a forum supervised by Hellen Apiyo, a Senior Assistant Labour Commissioner, and court-appointed conciliator.

Mid last month, Apiyo had expressed concern over the constitution of IPUCCF's negotiation team which was at the time partly blamed for stalled negotiations.

"IPUCCF needs to review and constitute its negotiation team, with a view to assisting teams currently in place to include a select team of chairpersons of Human Resources Committee from the thirty-seven council members of the IPUCCF," she wrote in a letter dated April 16.

In the report addressed to Employment and Labour Relations Court Judge Onesmus Makau who had in a ruling on March 16 referred the industrial dispute to the Cabinet Secretary in Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, Ukur Yattani, for resolution within sixty days, Apiyo had recommended the involvement of the National Treasury, the Ministry of Education and the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) in the IPUCCF team to expedite the CBA talks.

According to Apiyo, IPUCCF and UASU had only agreed on the retirement age of lectures following three conciliation meetings, the first held on March 23, the second on April 12, and the third on April 14.

UASU is said to have conceded to having the retirement age of lectures set at 72 after unsuccessfully fronting 75 as its preferred mandatory retirement age for dons.

-2017 Strikes -

In 2017, UASU declared strikes thrice that lasted a cumulative 108 days.

The union had on January 18 last year, at the beginning of the January-April semester in 2017, called for a strike that lasted 54 days as they demanded the negotiation of the 2013-2017 CBA.

The 54-day strike was called off on March 13, 2017, after an award of Sh10 billion CBA which saw a 17.5 and 3.9 per cent increment in salaries and house allowances of lecturers.

The strike was later reignited on July 3 after UASU faulted the government for defaulting on the agreed upon payment schedule.

The second strike was called off on July 18 UASU Secretary General Constantine Wasonga saying the union had received a legally binding commitment by the government that the CBA will be honoured.

The third strike was called on November 1, UASU protested over the implementation of the 2013-2017 CBA in two phases after Sh 4.8 billion wired to universities in June as the first installment of the Sh10 billion CBA under the 2016/17 Financial Year.

The remaining amount of Sh5.2 billion was transmitted in late November under the 2017/18 Fiscal Year amid a paralysis in public universities.

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