The Universities’ Academic Staff Union, an Education International’s affiliate in Kenya, is involved in a labour dispute with the employers’ federation for public universities over the negotiation and implementation of a collective bargaining agreement.
Underlying the current dispute is the failure by public universities under the Inter-Public Universities Councils’ Consultative Forum (IPUCCF) to negotiate, sign and implement the 2017-2021 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). The previous agreement expired on 30 June 2017.
The terms and conditions of service have been adjusted for all public workers, except for university staff, the pay structure of academic staff in public universities being characterised by distortions, stagnation and poor career progression plans. University staff are discriminated against by the lack of any review of terms and conditions of employment including basic salaries, pension arrears, allowances and other schemes.
“Academic staff in Kenyan Public Universities are overworked and underpaid,” stated firmly Universities’ Academic Staff Union (UASU) General Secretary Constantine Wasonga, adding that “this bears detrimental effects on staff morale, research, teaching and innovation outputs”.
“This situation leads to low retention of human resources and massive brain drain from public universities,” also stressed Education International’s General Secretary (EI) David Edwards.
It is to be noted that twenty five public universities have not yet negotiated and concluded their internal collective agreement, citing lack of funds.
Since March 2017, the UASU has made concerted efforts to ensure that the 2017-2021 CBA is negotiated. On 30 March 2017, UASU presented its proposal, but the employers’ federation and the Government did not comment by the 31 May 2017’s deadline. The UASU then forewarned and gave additional time for a response. On 9 December 2017, the parties agreed on a return to work framework for negotiations to be concluded by 31 January.
Following a series a missed meetings and requests for postponements, and all options having been exhausted, the union issued a seven-day strike notice and on 1 March, lecturers on public universities and colleges were on strike nation-wide. After an Industrial Court declared the strike illegal, UASU appealed to the Employment and Labour Relations Court. The matter will be reviewed on 27 March. In the meantime, university staff have withdrawn their services.
UASU is concerned that various governmental institutions are undermining labour relations in the higher education sector to the detriment of teaching staff, specifically:
- IPUCCF has consistently failed to conclude CBA negotiations on schedule,
- Employers and Government misuse the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (introduced under the Kenya Constitution 2010 to advise and/or set pay levels for public officers) to impede collective bargaining; and
- The Government is not proactive in providing funding to IPUCCF to enable public universities meet their obligations to employees.
Education International has written to the employers’ federation for public universities and to the Senate Commission for University Education to request that collective bargaining takes place without delay, and that appropriate funds are set aside to enable the implementation of the agreement once the later reached.