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University VCs bungle pay deals for selfish gain, report shows

By Augustine Oduor | Nov 10th 2021 | 5 min read


Members of Universities Academic Staff Union (UASU) and Kenya Universities Staff Union (KUSU) during a past press conference in Nairobi. [James Wanzala, Standard]

University workers have pointed fingers at the vice chancellors citing them as the stumbling blocks in salary negotiations and implementation, leading to unending disputes between unions and the government.

In a  report tabled in Parliament, unions reveal that VCs have over the years manipulated the negotiations process and used the stalemates to push their agenda.

“First, they delay jumpstarting the negotiations until the unions strike. Second, they manipulate the negotiations processes by doctoring or falsifying union’s proposals to solicit more funds for capitation,” University Academic Staff Union (UASU) officials said.

The details are in a seven-page report titled ‘UASU petition to the National Assembly’s Departmental Committee on Education and Research’ tabled on March 8, 2018.

UASU secretary general Constantine Wasonga and then national chair Muga K’Olale made the presentations to Parliament. K’Olale has since retired from UASU.

The union also accused the VCs for dishonesty during the salary negotiations and implementation. “We never get the exact figures released by the Treasury. And staff in post is inflated so as to yield excessive allocation of capitation for diversionary activities,” the UASU report says.

The document traces the stalemates on the CBAs to 2006 when the negotiation structure was distorted, giving VCs room to take central role in the process.

The report says that after the formation of UASU in 2003, universities also formed an employer’s trade union called Inter-Public Universities’ Councils Consultative Forum (IPUCCF).

“This outfit brought together all the university councils under the Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE), in 2004,” reads the report.

The union explains that a deal was struck between UASU and IPUCCF, culminating on a Recognition Agreement signed in accordance with International Labour Organisation Industrial Relations.

The team was to negotiate CBAs at national level and also ensure each university signed internal agreements with the unions based on demands specific to the chapters.

The report explains that the deal agreed on a two-year negotiation cycle, which delivered the pioneer CBA (2004-2006), in 2004.

The results were given by Joint Negotiation Committee (JNC) put in place to fast track the first ever salary talks between the government and unions.

The JNC had officers from the Office of the President then known us the Directorate of Personnel Management (DPM), Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Education, IPUCCF and UASU.

Report says that the team delivered a CBA in record time but noted that this was the last time smooth salary negations were experienced in the public universities.

“In the subsequent negotiations in 2006-2008, 2008-2010, 2010-2013, 2013-2017, the Office of the President, Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Education ceased to be members of the JNC,” reads report.

The union says that the decision by the National Treasury and Ministry of Education to pull out of university workers pay negotiations is the cause of unending strife.

 “This has allowed the ugly head of Vice Chancellors’ Committee (VCC) and authoritarianism to interfere with negotiations by introducing inordinate delays and layers of negotiations pitching,” reads the report.

Presently, South Eastern Kenya University (SEKU) vice chancellor Prof Geoffrey Muluvi is the chair  of the VCs committee.

Report says that after the exit of government teams, the IPUCCF was left on its own, creating a gap that invited the formation of the Vice Chancellors’ Committee (VCC).

UASU says that since 2006, VCs delay processing the unions’ proposals, deliberately fail to give counter-offer to the unions and also manipulate the negotiation processes.

Union also accuse VCs of failing to implement mutually agreed, signed CBA in toto and not respecting or adhering to labour legislation.

Wasonga said that the VCs’ committee, which is the secretariat to the IPUUCF is a powerful outfit that has influenced pay talks since 2006.

“They (VCs) have over the years frustrated unions during talks and even during implementation of CBAs,” he said.

VCs however blame the CBAs stalemate on poor funding from State.

In a presentation to MPs on financial sustainability of public universities in December last year, Prof Muluvi said before any CBA negotiations can  begin, the government must formally set aside the funds for such negotiations.

“However, this has not been the case and instead, huge balances are carried forward from each CBA cycle to another,” said Muluvi.

He said that the salaries payable to staff get determined through CBAs negotiated between the councils of public universities and the various unions representing university staff.

“In the years after 2003, several CBAs have been negotiated and concluded, with the recent three under the guidance of the Salaries and Remuneration Commission,” said Muluvi.

Tabling the report in Parliament in 2018, K’Olale said: “This Vice Chancellors Committee is a club that exclusively caters for VCs interests as members of a different scheme of service of workers.”

Wasonga and K’Olale then told MPs that with the distorted negotiations structure, many layers of talks were unnecessarily created, further punishing workers.

The first layer of talks, the union says, is between IPUCCF and the Vice Chancellors Committee. The IPUCCF then meets UASU after they have had a brief from the VCs.

IPUCCF then meets officials from the Ministry of Education, after which they engage Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC), which then engages the Ministry of Education officials before talking to The National Treasury.

The Ministry of Education then talks to Treasury before an agreement is arrived at and CBA signed.

Wasonga told The Standard that these layers often result in postponed meetings and prolonged agreements the endless talks delay process.

UASU, in their report termed IPUCCF as ‘incompetent, toothless, conscienceless, deceptive and non-authoritative’ accusing it of manipulating and blackmailing the councils.

And now, UASU wants the government representations restored and Vice Chancellors’ Committee?delinked from the IPUCCF for smooth talks.

“Whenever we present the unions’ proposals to IPUCCF, that one of them chairs, they use the said proposal to calculate and determine the least pay rise and even persuade and influence both the treasury and the Ministry of Education.

“Hence our quest for the inclusion of Office of the President, the National Treasury, Ministry of Education and Salaries and Remuneration Commission in future negotiations,” reads report.

In their presentation, unions said: “The VCs’ committee has consistently micro-managed the IPUCCF and undermined the CBA negotiations resulting in talks being conducted outside the negotiation cycle.”

“Since the unions commenced negotiations, VCs have evolved their strange financial games in which they influence the government to give us only minimal offer,” the report says.

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