|Workers at Egerton University in a show of solidarity as they began their strike Wednesday. [PHOTO: BONFACE THUKU/ STANDARD]|
By Rawlings Otieno and John Muthoni
Learning in public universities was paralysed Wednesday after lecturers and non-teaching staff went on strike in defiance to a court order.
Their representatives failed to turn up at the Industrial Court and insisted they had not been served with the orders suspending the strike. Officials of the Universities Academic Staff Union (Uasu) and Kenya Universities Staff Union (Kusu) warned their members would press on with the the strike until the Sh3.9 billion-pay dispute is resolved.
Striking workers assembled at the administration blocks of their respective institutions, singing solidarity songs and taunting the universities’ management.
The industrial action threatens to disrupt the academic calendar in 31 institutions of higher learning.
At the University of Nairobi, students are yet to start their end of semester exams while others are preparing to go for industrial attachment.
If the strike continues, the school administration will have to postpone exams and those who were to graduate this year may stay in college longer.
Yesterday, Uasu Secretary General Prof Muga K’Olale urged their members to go on with the industrial action until their demands were met.
Prof K’Olale claimed the Industrial Court was being used to stifle workers’ rights.
“We castigate strongly the misuse of courts which are being used to intimidate workers who are demanding what is lawful for them. The Chief Justice must look at the Industrial Court, which has issued erroneous, unethical and immoral orders. The court is supposed to respect workers’ rights, not to go against them,” said K’Olale.
Kusu Secretary General Charles Mukhwaya added: “Every time the Kenyan workers’ demand their rights, the employers rush to the Industrial Court for orders. Those that are supposed to be arraigned in court are the ones being given orders to molest workers. This is unacceptable.”
On Tuesday the Industrial Court granted orders sought by the Inter-Public University Consultative Forum (IPUCCF) that suspended the strike and required union officials to appear in court yesterday.
They, however, did not turn up, prompting Lady Justice Monica Mbaru to extend the orders and warn the striking employees that they are not above the law.
“They are not exempt from court orders and their actions to go on with the strike will amount to contempt of court,” Justice Mbaru said.
The judge’s warning followed submissions by the universities’ lawyer, Gladwell Mumia, who pushed for the striking workers to be cited for contempt. Mumia produced before court a text message that was allegedly circulated by K’Olale, asking all members to defy the court orders.
The SMS purportedly sent on Tuesday to the members of Uasu indicated that the strike was on as earlier scheduled.
The message read: “Notice, the strike is on and it is legal. Ignore the court order. We won’t appear in court at 10 am tomorrow (yesterday). Don’t be intimidated. Launch the strike.”
It added: “They will close the varsities and we will have a return-to-work formula. We will not relent. Be strong, solidarity forever.”
Mumia said they were unable to serve the union officials.
“We tried to serve them directly, tried through their advocates, through emails and even went to their offices, but they declined to accept the service,” Mumia said.
The Judge ordered that the respondents be served through the media because all the other means executed by the applicant’s lawyer were futile.
Mbaru said: “I am satisfied that the claimant has made efforts to serve the respondents but they have declined to accept the court order. I therefore order that they be served through special means; the national newspapers.”
Yesterday, the union officials said they would not negotiate until the Vice Chancellors withdraw the court case.
The unions also received a boost with the Public Servants Trade Union (Pusetu) expressing their solidarity with the striking university staff.
K’Olale accused the Ministry of Education of abetting corruption, fraud and abuse of office by the VCs. He challenged the Government to bring back normalcy in the institutions of higher learning across the country.
“The strike is on and it will continue. We will not heed to anybody’s urge to call off the strike. We will only call off the strike if the money is paid in full,” added K’Olale.
Mukhwaya said the Ministry had failed to address the problem even after they had consulted them.
At the University of Nairobi, security personnel were deployed at the campus yesterday morning as the strike by lecturers and non-academic staff over Sh3.9 billion pay dispute crippled learning.
And at Kenyatta University, striking workers locked lecture halls and assembled outside the administration block where they sang and danced.
Striking staff at Egerton University, Njoro campus had an altercation with students as they boycotted work to press for higher pay.
The clash was prompted by action by the striking workers to eject a student who was recording speeches of officials of the Kenya University Staff Union (Kusu) Egerton chapter.
Uasu Moi University Chapter officials went around all its campuses to ensure the strike was on.