Two varsities closed as lecturers' strike bites

Friday November 11 2011

By NOAH CHEPLOEN and TIMOTHY KEMEI

Two of Kenya's seven public universities has been closed as the lecturers' strike entered the third day.

Egerton and Masinde Muliro universities were closed indefinitely Friday and students sent home. It is expected that the other institutions of higher learning, which also include fifteen constituent colleges, will follow suit.

Egerton University made the decision at 10am after a meeting by the Senate- the top decision making organ in the university. This came after negotiations between the government and the lecturers’ collapsed on Thursday evening.

In a notice issued by the office of Academic Affairs, the university maintained that it normal operations had been jeopardised since the strike started on November 9. The strike has affected all the public universities.

“The senate has determined that the situation may persist for some time making the students idle.

"It has therefore been decided at today’s senate meeting that the university be closed until further notice,” they said. The closure affects both Njoro Main campus and Nakuru Town Campus.

The interruption has come at a time when students were preparing for end of semester exams which were due to start on December 5.

Students began to move out of the campuses immediately the notice was given out at 9 am.

They were given up to 3 pm to vacate but by 1 pm most of them had left.

Chairman of the Students Union of Egerton University, Cosmas Koech described the closure as unfortunate saying it may end up disrupting graduation scheduled before the end of this month.

“I am appealing to the government to hold dialogue with the three concerned unions and bring to an end the stalemate so that the students can resumes their classes,” Mr Koech told journalists. 

He said the students should not be punished for crimes they did not commit.

Another notice was issued instructing the non-teaching staff to go back to work.

The notice signed by the university’s Vice Chancellor Prof James Tuitoek said:

“All staff who are not working are deemed to have participated in the strike and will not be paid for the days not worked. Such staff are deemed to be absent from duty without leave or lawful course,”

Prof Tuitoek has said that the management will not hesitate from taking disciplinary measures against the staff who have breached the terms and conditions of service and the employment act.

On Thursday, crisis talks between the government and the University Academic Staff Union (UASU) chaired by Prime Minister Raila Odinga ended in a stalemate. (READ: Kenyan varsities may close as strike talks collapse)

A source at the meeting attended by vice-chancellors and workers’ representatives revealed that the striking lecturers were told there was no money to meet their wage demands at this time.

They were also reminded that Kenya is at war with Al-Shabaab extremists in neighbouring Somalia and urged to demonstrate patriotism.

The meeting was attended by Higher Education Minister Margaret Kamar, assistant minister Kilemi Mwiria and permanent secretary Crispus Kiamba.

The industrial action is spearheaded by UASU, but also includes administrative and support staff represented by the Universities Non-Teaching Staff Union (Untesu) and the Kenya Union of Domestic Hotels, Educational Institutions, Hospitals and Allied Workers Union (Kudhehia).

UASU is seeking implementation of a new structure that will double the basic pay of lecturers and improve their allowances.

It proposes to raise the pay of a professor to a maximum of Sh400,000, up from the current 165,000 a month, and a new house allowance of Sh95,000 up from Sh64,000.

An associate professor’s salary would rise to Sh298,000, moving from Sh135,000 and a house allowance of Sh85,000 against Sh58,000.

A senior lecturer would earn Sh221,000 and a house allowance of Sh75,000, lecturer Sh165,000 and a house allowance of Sh70,000 and an assistant lecturer Sh121,000 plus Sh55,000 for housing.

Similarly, pay of a graduate assistant lecturer — the lowest paid — should rise to Sh78,000 and Sh45,000 for housing from the current Sh40,000 and Sh30,000 for housing, a month.

The lecturers also have other benefits such as medical insurance, leave, and book allowances, which varies from one university to another.