MPs kill Bill that limits workers’ right to strike

Budget Committee Chairman Kimani Ichung'wa at Hilton Garden Inn Hotel, Mombasa Road in October 2019. [Edward Kiplimo,Standard]

A parliamentary committee has rejected a Bill that seeks to restrict the freedom to strike for workers who provide essential services to five days.

The National Assembly Labour and Social Welfare Committee also shot down a legislative proposal that would have required the workers to take a poll before proceeding on strike.

The Labour Relations (Amendment) Bill, 2019, which was the brain child of Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichung’wa, targets nurses, doctors and air traffic controllers.

Others are sanitation workers, meteorologists, marine and port navigational workers, and electricity and telecommunication services workers.

In rejecting the Bill, the committee noted that some of its provisions are impractical and violate the rights of workers to go on strike.

“The committee, having considered the Labour Relations (Amendment) Bill clause by clause, and taking into consideration the views and recommendations of the public, rejects the Bill in totality,” said the MPs.

The House team, for example, argued that it makes little sense to call a nationwide balloting exercise, yet workers’ representatives are mandated to make a decision on industrial action.

Sh5m fine

Besides, it noted, penalties specified for workers and union officials who violate the proposed law are not commensurate with the offences committed.

The Bill calls for fines of up to Sh5 million imposed on workers and union officials who continue to take part in a strike upon expiry of the five-day period, which is meant to provide an arbitration window.

The committee, which is chaired by Bura MP Ali Wario, termed the proposals ‘cumbersome and expensive’.

“The changes proposed are simplistic and would not fully address the challenges facing the labour sector in the country. The same does not create a balance between the rights of the employer and employees vis-a-vis the right of the citizenry to access essential services in the five days it proposes to permit strikes,” read the committee report tabled last Thursday.

It further read: “Upon consideration of this provision, the committee was of the view that the vote to call a strike should be put to the elected officials of the trade unions. This is because calling for and undertaking nationwide elections for all members of the trade union to decide whether a strike be called may not only prove cumbersome but also expensive.”

Among bodies that had objected to the Bill was the Central Organisation of Trade Unions, which said the proposals limit workers’ right to industrial action.

The committee, in its findings, drew parallels with other jurisdictions such as the United States, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and other countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

The report also made reference to a court case filed by Okiya Omtata that sought a declaration on the need to develop a policy framework to protect the rights of workers offering essential services.

The MPs noted that piecemeal review of the country’s labour laws would not solve unending labour disputes, and called for a more comprehensible review of the laws.