Atwoli defends independence of trade unions

President William Ruto and Cotu Secretary General Francis Atwoli chat during Labour Day celebrations in Nairobi. [PCS] 

Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) Secretary General Francis Atwoli has made a case for the independence of trade unions, criticising attempts to interfere with labour unions.

During the Labour Day celebrations in Nairobi, Wednesday, Atwoli said it was unfortunate that "appointed" State officers were leading the encroachment into trade unions.

"Some of our people cannot be able to differentiate a trade union and a Sacco, or saving and cooperative societies. A trade union is a pressure group," said the Cotu boss, remarks aimed at Private Security Regulatory Authority (PSRA) Director General Fazul Mahamed over his recent push against the veteran trade unionist.

The two have differed publicly over a directive by Fazul that private security guards should not remit Cotu dues, a move faulted by the security workers' union as unlawful.

Similarly, the PSRA Director General has vowed to influence the ouster of Atwoli as the Cotu boss.

But the Cotu boss has accused Fazul of curtailing growth in the private security sector. Atwoli said that government officials cannot micromanage labour unions, as this would be detrimental to workers.

"I hear some people coming up with suggestions that are irrelevant, unacceptable and not in tune with the dance on the platform currently. We must always remember that Africa, Asia and Latin America attained our independence through the struggle of the trade union movement," he said.

He enumerated some of Kenya's and Africa's trade unionists who were part of the independence struggle, saying their sacrifice would not be eroded by those interested in interfering in workers unions.

The Cotu boss recently faced calls for resignation, with Migori Senator Eddy Oketch sponsoring a Bill introducing term limit in trade unions. Atwoli, whose current term expires in 2026, has maintained that he is ready for elections.

He also pointed out the changes in the labour movement, saying unions had moved from "agitation to scientific dialogue".

"That is why you don't hear us fighting. We are busy in employers' boardrooms negotiating good terms and conditions of service for our members. In my union (Kenya Plantation Workers Union), I signed more than 44 collective bargaining agreements to cushion workers from the cost of living," he said.

Atwoli said that scientific research had helped establish the appropriate wage demands among enterprises. He called for 22.5 per cent general wage increase that President William Ruto slighted.

The Cotu chief also highlighted successes in the unions' umbrella, such as the renovation of the Tom Mboya Labour College, which he said cost Sh500 million.