Kenyan university staff set to strike unless revised wages implemented

The Kenyan government signed a new collective bargaining agreement on October 28, 2019, but has yet to allocate the budget to honor the agreement

January 14, 2020 by Peoples Dispatch
Kenya University staff
Leaders of the UASU after serving the strike notice on January 9.

The University Academic Staff Union (UASU) issued a strike notice on January 9, in protest against the Kenyan government’s failure to honor the wage hike agreement signed with unions representing university staff last year. They have warned that teachers will be downing tools from January 20.

With the new academic year set to start, at least 35 universities in the country will be affected by the impending strike unless the government averts it by releasing the money promised in the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) signed on October 28, 2019. The deadline for the implementation of the CBA was November 30, 2019.

After months of intense negotiations following an earlier strike in March 2018, the Kenyan government had signed the CBA with UASU, the Kenya University Staff Union (KUSU) and the Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotels, Educational Institutions Hospital and Allied members (KUDHEIHA).

As per this agreement, an increment between 23.14% and 25.07% has been promised to the academic staff, to be phased in over a four year period starting from 2017 – to which the wage hike was backdated – and ending in 2021. This amounts to an average annual hike between 5.75% and 6.25% for each of the four years covered in the agreement.

Once implemented, the highest earning professors are to receive an average annual increment of Sh 8,547 (USD 84.39), while the lowest earning professor will earn Sh 9,753 (USD 96.30) more, The Standard reported. The salary of the lowest and the highest earning associate professors will be hiked by Sh 11,766 (USD 116.17) and Sh 8,724 (USD 86.14), respectively. The highest and the lowest paid lecturers will also earn an average of Sh 2,795 (USD 27.60) and Sh4,919 (USD 48.57) more, respectively.  

The UASU claims that the hikes collectively require a total commitment of Sh13.8 (USD 0.14) billion, excluding pensions. However, as per the unions, the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC), by using an outdated list of the number of staff, has insisted that an allotment of Sh8.8 (USD 0.087) billion, including pensions, will suffice to pay for the hikes for all the staff. 

According to UASU’s data, the total number of staff in 39 universities is currently 32,944. However, the SRC, using old data that was submitted by universities prior to the signing of the 2013-17 CBA when the workforce was 30,312, has argued that Sh 8.8 (USD 0.087) billion will suffice to honor the new CBA. Out of this total amount, Sh 7 (USD 0.069) billion will be used to fund the pay hikes, and the remaining will be allocated for pensions. 

UASU finally accepted this reduced amount and signed the new CBA in October 2019, with the deadline of November 30, 2019 for implementation. However, “[w]e are now being told that even Sh 8.8 (USD 0.087) billion was not factored in the budget and we shall not tolerate that,” Constantine Wasonga, the general secretary of UASU said on January 9. 

Union chairman, Muga K’Olale, added that the government has “unilaterally, unlawfully and unconstitutionally dishonoured the 2017-2021 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) signed between them on October 28, 2019.”

After the government failed to meet the deadline, on December 13 last year, the conference of the union’s national delegates had passed a resolution to go on strike, for which the strike notice has been finally served on January 9.