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Judge known for protecting labour rights wants to be CJ

By Paul Ogemba | April 9th 2021

Industrial Court Judge Nduma Nderi. He is among the individuals eyeing the Chief Justice job. [Fidelis Kabunyi, Standard]

Soft-spoken Employment and Labour Relations Court judge Mathews Nduma Nderi can be mistaken for a weakling when handling court disputes.

But when it comes to making a decision on matters touching on employment rights, he is none-compromising and takes the bull by the horns. His judgements speak volumes and have revolutionised the labour industry.

He is relying on his vast experience as a seasoned arbitrator who understands employment disputes to seek the position of Chief Justice and judge of the Supreme Court. His interview with the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has been scheduled for Monday, April 19 where he is expected to prove his worth for the position.

No one whose employment contract has been unfairly terminated goes to Justice Nderi’s court and walks out empty-handed. He will, however, equally dismiss anyone with a frivolous case on employment dispute.

The same way he has brought joy to the faces of those seeking protection from their employers, including matters of salary increment, is the same way he has brought pain to those who could not prove their cases.

In the written work he presented to the JSC to support his application for the CJ post, the judge cited some of the groundbreaking labour disputes he has presided over. He cited the cases he had allowed as well as the ones he had dismissed.

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Justice Nderi, 59, is an alumni of Nairobi School and was admitted to the bar as an advocate of the High Court in 1988 after graduating with a Bachelor of Law from the University of Nairobi.

He obtained a Master of Laws degree in International Trade Law from the University of Stellenbosch, South Africa where he majored in Commercial Arbitration and two diplomas in Human Resource Management and Business Organization.

His 31-years experience in legal practice has largely been obtained outside the country, having only practised as an advocate in Kenya for five years after graduating before moving to Swaziland in 1992 where he was appointed a crown counsel in the government’s prosecution office.

In 1997, he was promoted to senior crown counsel in Swaziland’s Attorney General Chambers before being appointed as Judge President of the Industrial Court of Swaziland where he served from 1998 to 2006.

He returned to Kenya that year and briefly served as head of legal and industrial affairs at the Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE) for one year.

He then went to Arusha, Tanzania to work as the principal legal counsel for the East African Community, between 2008 and July 2012.

After the 2010 Constitution established Employment and Labour Relations Courts (ELRC), Justice Nderi seized the opportunity to come back to Kenya where he was appointed a judge in 2012.

The judge is credited for laying the first foundation of the ELRC’s operations after promulgation of the Constitution having been elected the division’s principal judge in 2012 and served until 2017.

Justice Nderi is a devout Catholic and says he likes playing golf, listening to music, dancing and reading inspirational books in his free time.

Double-edged sword

In his cited work, he submitted a decision in which he declared that workers’ unions have a right to be paid agency fees by employers in a case that had been filed by Kenya Hotels and Allied Workers Union against a resolution by some employers to withhold union dues.

The second writing involved a telephone operator who had been employed for five years on a monthly salary of Sh7,000 without a contract. The judge declared that the employment amounted to unfair labour practice and awarded the complainant Sh7 million as compensation.

Since a judge’s sword is double-edged, Justice Nderi also cited two cases where he declined to rule in favour of applicants who contested their removal from employment.

Among them was the case where he dismissed a case by former Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko to stop his impeachment and another where he upheld the decision of Kiambu County Assembly to impeach former speaker.

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