Staff providing essential services will continue reporting to work during strikes under a raft of legal changes fronted by the government.
These will span healthcare, electricity, water, sanitation and telecommunication services sectors.
Others are providers of air navigational services, meteorologists, fire fighters, fuel distributors and port workers.
Under an elaborate section to be added in the Labour Relations Act, union officials face a Sh500,000 fine each or three-month imprisonment if the strike disrupts delivery of such services.
The proposed changes require unions to report any dispute to the Cabinet secretary and wait for intervention within a period of 21 days.
Where no resolution is reached, the union still has to serve another seven-day notice to the CS, with a schedule showing that a minimum number of employees will be on duty throughout the strike period for service continuity. That schedule, the law states, must be prepared in consultation with the board.
“The Bill seeks to amend the Labour Relations Act, 2007 to make provisions for the safeguarding of essential services during provisions of industrial action,” says Parliament Majority Leader Aden Duale in the memorandum of objects and reason of the Statute Law (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill, 2018.
In the form that the then president Mwai Kibaki assented to the law in 2007, Labour Relations Act expressly prohibited essential service providers from engaging in strikes or industrial lockouts.
Labour CS Ukur Yatani is proposing to delete Section 78(l) (f), which had outlawed strike so as to be in harmony with Section 41 (2) of the Constitution which grants every worker the right join a trade union and to go on strike.
The proposed changes say union and employees will be deemed to have breached employment contract in case a strike disrupts delivery of essential services.
It states, “(breaching the contract), knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that the probable consequences of doing so may endanger human life or public health, or cause serious bodily injury to any person …, commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding Sh500,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months.”
By comparison, unions representing non-essential services workers only have to serve seven days written notice of the strike or lock-out to the minister and the employer group before proceeding on strike in case there is no intervention.