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Unions issue 'mother-of-all strikes' notice over SRC freeze in pay hikes

By Brian Otieno | June 18th 2021

SRC Chairperson Lyn Mengich at the Hilton Hotel, Nairobi, on June 17, 2021. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Services in the public service could grind to a halt if a section of unions from the public sector make good their threat to down their tools.

Leaders from various unions have issued a joint 14-day strike notice protesting the move by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) to freeze pay hikes for public servants for the next two years.

Led by Earnest Nadome, the Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) Assistant Secretary-General, they accused the SRC of overstepping its mandate by “unilaterally” issuing the directive on pay raises. SRC cited the adverse effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The leaders said that the government was the only entity mandated to negotiate with its employees on labour-related matters.

“We wouldn’t have a problem if the employer – the government – called us and explained that the government had no money, not the SRC. But we know that the government has money. The economy is also picking up,” said Nadome who spoke at the Cotu headquarters in Nairobi.

Nadome was accompanied by leaders from the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Union, Kenya Union of Clinical Officers, Kenya Union of Special Needs Education Teachers and the Union of National Research Institutes Staff of Kenya.

Other unions represented were the Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotels, Educational Institution, Hospitals and Allied Workers and the Kenya University Staff Union (Kusu).

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COTU Assistant Secretary-General Ernest Nadome, and KUSU Secretary-General Charles Mukwaya during a press conference at Solitary House, on June 18, 2021. [Samson Wire, Standard]

The Cotu official added that they would mobilise affiliated members ahead of the planned strike with the view to bringing other unions on board.

“We would have given them seven days but we gave 14 instead so that they consult at the government level but if they fail this will be the mother of all strikes… we are ready to bring down the entire public sector so that the government appreciates the role we play,” said Nadome.

The trade union leaders further accused Treasury of instructing the SRC on how to conduct its mandate, lamenting what they termed as a “blanket condemnation” of all public service workers, claiming that some state agencies were making profit.

Kusu secretary-general Charles Mukhwaya also faulted the salaries commission.

“Sitting in a corner and making such a unilateral decision is what we are saying No to. If you are going to make a decision that affects workers as such, it is only courteous that SRC and the government calls the stakeholders,” said Mukhwaya.

In a separate briefing, Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) secretary-general Akelo Misori endorsed the view that the SRC had no mandate to block salary reviews as such actions were a preserve of employers and employees.

“SRC’s regulations explicitly state that it does not negotiate with trade unions in the formulation of collective bargaining agreements (CBAs). Its role in that process is to advise public service employers before the finalization of any CBA process,” said Misori.

Misori said Kuppet would engage the Teachers Service Commission to negotiate a new CBA to replace the current on that expires at the end of this month, adding that they would seek legal redress if the talks were to fail.

KUPPET secretary-general Akelo Misori. [Waweru Murage, Standard]

Crucial sectors that could be hampered by the planned strike include medical services, coming in the wake of a series of strikes by healthcare workers within the pandemic period.

Education could also suffer if the primary and secondary school teachers’ unions - Knut and Kuppet respectively – join their counterparts in the other sectors, jeopardising the current school calendar.

On Thursday, Knut secretary general Wilson Sossion termed the move “ill-advised, with

Cotu boss Francis Atwoli saying that SRC was a mere “medium”, which had no right to come between the government and public servants.

The SRC was expected to review the salaries of government employees this year as part of a four-year review exercise. 

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