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Angry workers unions demand refund of housing levy deductions

 Kenya Universities Staff Unions (Kusu) Secretary General Charles Mukhwana. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

Workers unions, through the Trade Unions Congress of Kenya (TUC-K), want the government to refund housing levy already deducted from salaries.

The unions also want the government and employers to stop further deductions of the housing levy with immediate effect.

Kenya Universities Staff Unions (Kusu) Secretary-General Charles Mukhwana said workers have suffered because of the housing levy.

"Workers cannot continue being beast of burden for all Kenyans to put up houses for others even where they have not been told they want houses. It is unfair, it is unconstitutional and an unnecessary burden to the Kenyan workers," Dr Mukhwana said.

Kusu secretary-general faulted the court for giving a 45-day window to the government before its orders can take effect.

"The housing levy in the Finance Act, 2023, is either constitutional or unconstitutional and there is no middle ground. We urge that the unconstitutionality should begin from the day that levy is declared unconstitutional," he said.

Kenya Medical and Practitioners and Dentist Union (KMPDU), Kenya Union of Clinical Officers and Kenya Union of Nurses went to court to seek redress against the Treasury Cabinet Secretary and other four agencies over the Finance Act, 2023.

High Court bench comprising of Justices David Majanja, Christine Meoli and Lawrence Mugambi declared the 1.5 percent house levy unconstitutional.

Justice Majanja, in his ruling, said the government had not provided a rational explanation on why it had imposed the housing levy only on workers with employment in the formal sector.

"The introduction of the housing levy is discriminatory and irrational and arbitrary and is in violation of the Constitution," he ruled. 

The judges then allowed the government lawyers’ request for a 45-day stay of the order as they decide whether to appeal or make changes to the law that will address the court's concerns.

But KMPDU Secretary-General Davji Bhimji said the window should be used by the government to refund monies deducted from the workers.

"The Finance Act has impoverished our workers. The 45 days should be used to refund the monies already collected by January 10. The government should look at ways of collecting revenue but not through workers," Dr Bhimji said.

Universities Academic Staff Union (Uasu) Secretary-General Constanta Wasonga said workers need nothing less than a refund of all money deducted from their pay by employers.

He lamented that the government continues to raid the workers’ payslips further by introducing a 2.75 per cent contribution to the Social Health Insurance Fund despite opposition from the unions.

"We promise our members that the same way we challenged the housing levy, we will apply the same formula on this," he said. 

Hardly had the ink on the judgment declaring the Housing Levy an illegality dried than the government wrote to employers reminding them to pay the levy until January 10, next year, the period the judgment remains suspended.

The Ministry of Lands and Housing CS Alice Wahome said an employer who fails to comply shall be liable to a penalty equivalent to two per cent of the unpaid funds for every month, if the same remains unpaid.

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