Strike at your own peril, Egerton University boss tells lecturers

Egerton university workers converged at the graduation square on November 15, 2021 to begin a strike over what they termed as sustained systematic industrial injustices and employer cruelty. Learning and other core university activities at the university were paralyzed after all cadres of staff withdrew their services in protest. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

A strike started by Egerton University lecturers yesterday to push for a pay rise might not yield much after the institution declared it was broke and won’t pay.

Vice-Chancellor Isaac Kibwage broke his silence over the crisis at the institution moments after the lecturers converged at the Njoro campus graduation square to begin the industrial action.

Non-teaching staff, who were on a one-week go-slow joined the lecturers in the picketing. The dons had last week given the management a seven-day strike notice, which expired yesterday.

In a telephone interview with The Standard, Prof Kibwage said the institution was cash strapped and could not meet the financial demands by the workers on its past agreement with them. 

“It is unfortunate the lecturers have refused to understand the capitation challenges we are going through. Their strike is likely to sink the institution deeper into a financial crisis,” said Kibwage. 

He added: “If we had the money we wouldn’t wait for the industrial action. If their strike forces us to close down the university, we shall be at a bigger loss since the students will not pay the fees to pay their salaries.”

A seven-day strike notice issued by the University Academic Staff Union (UASU) expired yesterday, culminating in the dons’ officially downing their tools after a week of picketing. 

The rest of the staff under Kenya University Staff Union (KUSU) and Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotels, Educational Institutions, Hospitals and Allied Workers (Kudheiha) are on a go-slow. 

Addressing the press, UASU Egerton Chapter Chairperson Mwaniki Ngari said the university had been remitting pay to their accounts, but it was not what they expected.

“The university management has refused to address the problem of our salaries, enhancements, and deductions for a long time. It has reached a point of engaging a different approach,” said Prof Ngari. 

He said the management had declined to comment on how the university should pay the accrued amount. 

“The university has continued to receive monies from the exchequer but the management doesn’t want to engage us on how the same should be utilised to unlock this stalemate,” Ngari said. 

UASU Chapter Secretary Grace Kibue accused the university management of mutilating a nationally agreed Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), which other universities had obeyed. 

“The 2017-2021 CBA was negotiated and upheld in a January 2021 court ruling. The refusal by Egerton University to implement it as others abide by its provisions raises questions about the management,” said Dr Kibue.

The workers accused the management of blatant violation of their fundamental rights, citing intimidation and use of demeaning language while addressing them. “Apart from the CBA, we had a return-to-work formula negotiated and signed in November 2020 for unpaid salaries dating back to July 2020. This reckless disregard of our rights is in stark violation of our Constitution, national and international labour laws,” said Kibue. 

With learning and other academic activities paralysed, the students are stranded at the university. 

The strike comes at a time the students finishing their studies had begun sitting for special and supplementary examinations last week ahead of their anticipated graduation slated for December. 

“There will be no further teaching and instruction, supervision of students, administration and processing of exams, and meetings; both physical and virtual. We regret the inconveniences caused to the students and their parents,” said Kibue. 

KUSU Egerton Branch chairperson Kipchumba Ruto explained that the university had exposed them to unnecessary suffering by its non-remittance of deductions made on their salaries. 

“The university has not been remitting deductions for retirement benefits, health covers, and third party deductions such as bank loans despite deducting from our pay,” said Ruto. 

The VC said the management would continue to engage the unions, saying they were yet to receive the alleged capitation from the National Treasury.

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