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Parliament petitioned over Egerton University stalemate

Egerton University was closed on November 26 following a lecturers' strike that had started two weeks earlier. [Harun Wathari, Standard]

Njoro MP Charity Kathambi has petitioned the National Assembly to intervene so that Egerton University can be reopened.

The university was closed in November last year after lecturers went on strike to protest a decision to cut their salaries by 40 per cent. The university attributed the move to the effects of coronavirus on its finances.

In a statement to parliament on Wednesday, the MP said it is necessary that the university is reopened so that the education of thousands of students is not interrupted even as she called the House, through the departmental committee on Education and Research, to help end the crisis.

The university was closed on November 26 following a lecturers' strike that had started two weeks earlier.

“I am requesting that the committee provides a report on the challenges facing Egerton University that led to its closure since November last year as this has negatively affected students,” said Kathambi.

A court later directed the university to resume payment of full salaries, an order that is yet to be implemented.

"I am asking the Education Committee to establish why the university is yet to resume full payment of salaries and tell us what the way forward will be," Kathambi said.

She added: "We want to know what measures the government is taking to ensure workers receive their full pay. The Ministry of Education should tell Kenyans what it is doing to return normalcy at the university.”

"Egerton is one of the many public universities struggling to meet their financial obligations. There are many universities that are facing financial constraints, management wrangles, strikes, and imminent closure. This is a matter that has not been addressed in many years and needs urgent solutions.” 

Egerton University lecturers went on strike to protest a decision to cut their salaries by 40 per cent. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

The university had promised to pay the dons cut salaries as arrears at a later date.

Despite a court order to reinstate their full salaries, the university management has maintained that the institution does not have cash.

This came as it also emerged that the university has not been remitting statutory deductions since 2017.

The problem was compounded further when the university management, last week, suspended lecturers who are members of the University Academic Staff Union (Uasu).

The suspension letters were issued to the unionists on Monday terming their strike illegal. The university accused the lecturers of "being absent from duty without lawful authority".

“It has been noted by the University Management Board that you are participating in an illegal strike. Consequently, you have been absent from duty without authority in contravention of the Labour Relations Act of 2007 Laws of Kenya,” letters stated.

“By this letter, you are instructed to hand over your responsibilities and any university property under your care to the chairman of your department and vacate your office immediately,” said the letters.

The lecturers were also asked to show cause why action should not be taken against them.

The lecturers, led by Uasu's Egerton University secretary Grace Kibue, have however downplayed the move by the management maintaining that their strike is legal and protected under the law.

“From the onset, our strike has been legal and protected. It cannot be that it has taken such a higher institution of learning three months to realize that the strike is illegal,” said Dr Kibue.

Egerton University students, October 6, 2020. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

She said that after five meetings, the university management formed a mediation committee that was tasked with seeking a middle ground between the dons and their employer.

Egerton's Uasu chairman Mwaniki Ngari accused the university of disregarding the union's return-to-work formula which included implementation of their 2017-2021 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).

“The CBA has the backing of a court ruling of January 2021 and was a national issue. At least 25 universities across the country have implemented it. What makes Egerton an exception is not clear,” said Ngari.