Workers threaten 'mother of all strikes' over terms for State jobs

Cotu Secretary General Francis Atwoli. He challenged President William Ruto to shelve the plan to avert a strike. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Workers across various unions have threatened the mother of all strikes if the government makes good its plans to scrap permanent and pensionable terms for civil servants.

At a Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) meeting in Nairobi on Saturday, the workers also demanded the sacking of Public Service Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria over his proposal to have civil servants employed on contract.

Led by Cotu Secretary General Francis Atwoli, they challenged President William Ruto to shelve the plan to avert a strike that would paralyse the entire public service.

“It is our duty to correct the government and we will tell the president that this person needs correction. The president is working well and he needs people who match his pace. It is our duty to tell him that the person next to him is a pickpocket,” Atwoli said during the meeting with shop stewards ahead of Wednesday’s Labour Day celebrations.

He said he had written to President Ruto about the matter, saying he would delve more into it on Wednesday. President Ruto is expected to grace the May Day event to be held at Uhuru Gardens in Nairobi.

“I believe in hitting from the front... don’t be intimidated,” the Cotu boss added.

Cotu Deputy Secretary General Benson Okwaro accused CS Kuria of being an impediment in negotiations between the government and workers.

“Kuria does not represent what the president wants to do... In some meetings, when we are almost 50 per cent towards success, he comes with rubbish that derails everything,” Okwaro said in sentiments shared by General Chairperson Rev Joel Chebii.

“Kuria is pulling the president down. That is not a man to keep in office. He should be sacked,” said Chebii.

Kenya National Union of Nurses Secretary General Seth Panyako lamented that the Kenya Kwanza government had gone back on its promise to Kenyans, warning of industrial action at never-before-seen levels.

“We will paralyse this nation to the extent that even the person sweeping State House will not report to work. You cannot contractualise the public service,” said Panyako.

He termed the proposal ill-intentioned, stating that it would affect an already frustrated civil service, suffering under the weight of the high cost of living.

Kenya Union of Clinical Officers’ Secretary General George Gibore said Kuria’s pronouncement violated the law as contractual terms are not contemplated in law among civil servants.

“Kenya will not be a country of contracts. Workers will be employed on permanent and pensionable basis because this country is permanent,” said Gibore.

On Friday, Raila Odinga’s Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya said it would support legal suits against the employment proposal.

Kuria’s remarks came amid the ongoing medical workers’ strike, with the workers also threatening to down their tools in solidarity with the medics, arguing that a violation of the doctors’ Collective Bargaining Agreements threatens similar deals between the government and workers’ unions.

They further blamed the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) for “preventing the resolution of disputes between the State and unions”. “SRC was put in place to play an advisory role and not to block CBAs. We plan to raise this SRC issue to the United Nations through the International Labour Organisation,” said Atwoli, who also fired a warning shot to employers delaying their employees’ salaries.

He urged the president to increase the general wage for all workers and not just the minimum wage.

The workers also protested attempts to erode the independence of trade unions by various actors, criticising attempts to introduce term limits on union officials as proposed in a Bill sponsored by Migori Senator Eddy Oketch.

Atwoli railed at Private Security Regulatory Authority over its directive that private guards should not remit Cotu union dues and his remarks that he would influence elections in the trade unions umbrella.

Private Security Workers’ Union Secretary General Isaac Andabwa faulted Fazul Mohamed’s actions as lacking a basis in law.