By Luke Anami
Kenya: The standoff pitting two rival trade unions has gotten murkier, with claims of a plot to control workers’ billions emerging.
The feud between Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) and Public Service Trade Unions of Kenya (Pusetu-K) is being viewed as a battle for control of billions that two major State corporations collect on behalf of workers who are commemorating Labour Day today.
While National Social Security Fund (NSSF) collects more than Sh600 million per month, the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) collects close to Sh12 billion annually.
The two State corporations have been seen as cash cows for various government regimes where the fight for control of billions at the two institutions has seen the war spill over to the labour movement.
The current battle as to who between Cotu and the newly formed Pusetu should host the Labour Day celebrations is a pointer to wider schemes to the money as well as intentions of weakening the role of each other in industrial relation matters.
This year’s Labour Day celebrations come a time when the Government is fully engaged in a battle with Cotu, the oldest trade union in the country. Jubilee Government through the Labour Cabinet Secretary Kazungu Kambi has continued to openly side with Pusetu, contrary to the tripartite partnership arrangement envisaged under the International Labour Organisation conventions that call for equal representation of workers, employers and the Government.
“We have evidence that the Government is interfering with the running of trade unions,” Cotu Secretary General Francis Atwoli said, adding: “We are aware they want to control the billions that workers contribute to NSSF and NHIF.”
Atwoli, whose union was allowed to preside over the Labour Day celebrations, said even though there was a need for a vibrant labour movement, the manner in which the Government has gone around the issue is suspicious. “Teachers do not even contribute solely to the two institutions yet they want control of the state corporations,” Atwoli explained.
Knut speaks out
However, Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) who are founder members of Pusetu have since come to the defence of the Government.
“It is not true to say the Government is meddling in the affairs of trade unions. We came together as Pusetu in order to have one voice to represent our workers,” Knut Secretary General Wilson Sossion said, adding: “In fact, Pusetu was formed following the promulgation of the new Constitution. We have fought to be recognised by the Government.”
Sossion said the unions under the umbrella of Pusetu, namely, Knut, Kenya Civil Servants Union, Kenya Public University Workers Union and University Academic Staff Union are ready to engage with the Government for better pay of workers.
“We are demanding to be represented in various statutory bodies including the Salaries and Remuneration Commission, National Labour Board, NSSF, NHIF as well as the International Labour Organisation. And as far as our membership is concerned, we want more teachers from the current 200,000 to 400,000. Our engagement with the Government is therefore to seek better representation,” he said.
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