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Dons: Here’s how to end perennial university staff strikes

By Augustine Oduor | Nov 8th 2021 | 3 min read

KUSU, UASU and KUHEIHA members at the Technical University of Mombasa want collective bargaining agreements implemented. [Robert Menza, Standard]

Vice-chancellors have proposed a new salary negotiation formula that they argue will bring to an end the perennial strife between universities and workers unions.

In their new plan, VCs recommend that all Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) negotiations be carried out at only two levels to reduce acrimony and make institutions competitive. The university managers propose that the first step should entail talks between university councils and the government where the minimum compensation levels are negotiated.

And the second step should be done at the university level when the management negotiates with workers’ unions based on available funds and the capacity of the institution.

The proposals are in a report titled ‘The Status of University Education in Kenya, Challenges and way Forward.’ It was prepared by the Vice-Chancellors Committee of Public Universities in Kenya and was handed to Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha last year.

The VCs argue that if adopted, these proposals would put the determination of staff compensation firmly under the control of the Councils of the Universities.

“The University Councils would then be able to take responsibility for the determination of compensation for their staff as the employers of staff in the universities,” reads the report.

They also say that this approach would enhance transparency between the university councils and the staff Unions in the CBA negotiation process.

 “It will also make the staff understand more clearly that their employer is the Council and that the Ministry is only the trustee of the Government as the owner of the University,” reads the report.

Pitching for the proposal, VCs argue that staff compensation remains a serious issue affecting the productivity of universities and must be addressed effectively.

“It is important therefore that special attention be paid to how we compensate staff in our universities, especially the academic and technical staff who interact with the students directly during the learning process,” reads the report.

The VCs argue that as long as the university compensation regime is not competitive both within the local environment and as compared to universities within the region, it will never be possible to find enough manpower to teach.

“And as long as we are unable to get enough manpower to teach in our universities and efforts towards reforms will be stillborn,” the report says.

On the two tire CBA negotiations proposal, the VCs say that the first step of talks will only involve the Ministry of Education, the Treasury, Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC), State Corporations Advisory Committee (SCAC) and any other Government agencies that need to be consulted with. Unions would not be part of the talks at this stage.

During this meeting, compensation levels would be agreed on and adopted as the minimum points of payment that a University may offer staff. The VCs propose that the next stage of talks should be activated at the university level, where each institution’s council negotiate details of the compensation levels with the staff unions.

“At this stage, every university shall be expected to establish salary levels in accordance with their resource levels and capacities,” reads the report.

VCs say that the agreed levels should then be forwarded to the Education ministry for further concurrence in consultation with the SRC and the Treasury. 

“Once this concurrence has been received, then the agreed compensation levels may be registered as the CBA with the Industrial and Labour Relations Court,” reads the report.

In the report, the VCs argue that this new approach will allow staff universities to negotiate directly with their councils.

Overall, the VCs pitch that the new negotiation approach would give the university councils the flexibility to set the compensation levels within their financial and resource abilities.

Insiders argue that if the Maximum Differentiated Unit Cost (DUC) is implemented, each university will have their money ready to plan with.  

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