Twenty-four former employees of Moi University suffered a setback in a 10-year-old legal battle seeking compensation for wrongful termination.
The Court of Appeal set aside an order by the Industrial Court that had awarded them Sh37 million for wrongful termination and only allowed them to pursue Sh6 million from the university.
The junior non-teaching staff at the then Chepkoilel campus (now University of Eldoret) were involved in an accident in 2002 while on their way to a colleague’s funeral in a college bus.
They sued an insurance company seeking compensation for the accident when it turned out the bus was not insured.
The college reacted by sacking them in 2006 and the matter turned into a protracted battle for justice where they filed another case alleging unfair termination.
The case moved from the labour office to the Industrial Court and finally the Court of Appeal.
Last week, appellate judges Hannah Okwengu, Mohammed Warsame and George Kariuki ruled in relation to their sacking, that they were only entitled to six months’ salary and other statutory benefits.
The Court of Appeal set aside an Industrial Court ruling that had ordered that they be paid full salaries from the time they were sacked to June 2, 2011, when it made its ruling.
Reacting to the ruling the former university employees said justice was not served.
“We feel that there is bias and we have not received justice. We have been left hopeless,” said Mr Samuel Morema, one of the former employees who had worked as a laboratory assistant for 23 years.
The ruling means that some of them will be paid less than Sh100,000.
It all started on November 23, 2002 when they set off from the college to attend the funeral in Meru.
“We departed from Eldoret at around 11pm. The journey was uneventful until we reached the Njoro junction just before Nakuru town when the driver of the bus rammed into a stationary truck,” recalled Mr Joseph Mogaka, now 58 years old who had also served as a laboratory assistant for 23 years.
Mr Peter Kimuru, 60, a mechanic who had also served for 23 years said: “The driver and his assistant were killed instantly. The rest of us were rushed to the Rift Valley Provincial Hospital.”
“I broke my left leg completely and I was unconscious for three weeks. It is only later that I was told my leg had been fitted with metal plates at Kenyatta National Hospital where I was referred to,” narrated Mr Mogaka, a father of five.
Mr Mogaka, just like many others, said he had spent most of his savings on medical bills for injuries sustained in the accident.
It was after they left hospital that their battle for justice began.
When they were sacked, their union reported the matter to the Labour minister who appointed an officer to investigate the matter.
The verdict was that the workers were within their rights to sue the university for compensation, and that they should be reinstated to their former positions without loss of benefits.
The university refused to accept these recommendations, which led to the minister referring the dispute to the Industrial Court on May 30, 2008.
The court found in favour of the workers in a ruling dated August 27, 2009. Relying on section 45 of the Employment Act, 2007, it held that their termination was unfair and declared that it unjustified, illegal and therefore null and void.
It ordered that they be reinstated to their jobs from their dates of termination and without any loss of salaries or benefits.
“We became optimistic that the university will pay us as per the Industrial Court’s ruling,” explained Mr Kimuru.
But the University approached the Industrial Court seeking a review. Among its grounds was that the decision was based on the employment laws enacted in 2007 which were not in force at the time the dispute arose.
Consequently, the court reviewed the award ordering the unlawful termination of the workers be reduced to normal termination without any loss of their full salaries and all other benefits and allowances up to the date of their termination, and that the university pay to each of the workers six months’ salary, being compensation for loss of employment.
The workers celebrations were, however, short lived after the university opted to challenge the award in the Court of Appeal.
On March 11, this year, the appellate judges found that the Industrial Court’s award had been issued unlawfully.