Court declares bid to reduce Egerton staff pay unconstitutional

Egerton main Campus main entrance on February 9, 2022. [File, Standard]

The Employment and Labour Relations Court in Nairobi has declared unconstitutional notice on salary reduction by Egerton University to its staff during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Justice James Rika said he was persuaded that Egerton University acted in violation of the Kenya University Staff Union’s right to collective bargaining under Article 41 of the Constitution.

The judge said the Notice dated May 13, 2020, issued by the then Vice-Chancellor Rose Mwonya went against the existing collective bargaining structures.

The notice indicated that because of the Covid-19 outbreak in the country, the university was not able to generate enough funds internally, to be able to pay salaries for April 2020.

The University Management Board as per the circular resolved that staff in Grades 1-4 will receive their full net salaries as indicated in their pay slips, and staff in Grade 5-19 will receive 60 per cent of their salary as indicated in their respective pay slips and the balance of 40 per cent to be paid as soon as possible.

“The notice issued by the 1st respondent (Egerton University) to staff, dated May 13, 2020 on salary reduction, is declared unconstitutional, null and void,” read the judgment in part.

The court further issued a permanent injunction restraining the university either by itself, agents, or whoever is acting on its behalf from implementing the said notice, without the involvement of the union within the existing collective bargaining structures.

Kenya Universities Staff Union's (Kusu) filed the petition on June 12, 2020. The Union Secretary General Charles Mukhwaya said it executed a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), with public universities.

Mukhwaya said the university issued a notice to the union members, unilaterally reducing their salary. He said they were not involved in reducing members’ monthly salary. The reduction was up to 40 per cent salary reduction while pay slips issued to its members continued to mislead them that they were receiving 100 per cent salary.

Mukhwaya argued that the university violated its members' constitutional guarantees and protections. He said the government continued to fund public universities.

“In the supplementary budget 2020, public universities were allocated additional funds for staff remuneration. There was no reason to justify a reduction of members’ salaries,” said Mukhwaya, who noted that other public universities continued to pay their staff full salaries.

Egerton University, through the Finance Officer, Moses Odero Ouma, in an affidavit sworn in June 2020, said Kusu was invited for a consultative meeting before the circular was issued. In the meeting, the union was informed of the institution’s financial position.

He said that the university was advised that with the onset of Covid-19, the government directed its closure alongside other public institutions leading to non-collection of university fees, necessitating a pay cut.

Odero argued that before Covid-19, the university suffered inadequate revenue collection owing to industrial action called by the union at the university, in 2018, there was reduced student enrollment,
leading to a loss of Sh1.035 million.

In 2018-2019 he noted that funding was reduced from Sh205 million to Sh153 million. In 2019, the year closed on an operating deficit of Sh1.705 billion, and the university was compelled to default on payment of some statutory obligations.

The University Sacco, Odero said he filed a claim in Nakuru, H.C.C. Number 38 of 2019, demanding Sh434 million in unremitted obligations.