The government has opened a fresh confrontation with trade unions after it ordered any of their leaders holding political positions to resign immediately.
Labour Cabinet Secretary Phyllis Kandie directed 11 trade unionists, among them two governors, several MPs and Members of County Assemblies to resign, a move that attracted condemnation from the affected leaders.
Despite some of the leaders having resigned after the August elections, Ms Kandie went ahead to list them, with speculation rife that the target is the combative Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) Secretary-General Wilson Sossion, who is also an ODM nominated MP.
“It is notified for general information that the following persons, being State Officers as per provisions of Article 77 and 260 of the Constitution, cease to hold office immediately as trade union officials in their respective unions,” said Ms Kandie in special Gazette notice dated December 13.
Those affected include Nyeri Governor Edward Kahiga and his Baringo counterpart Stanley Kiptis. Both were Knut branch executive secretaries before the polls.
However, Nation has established that the two governors left their union positions after the elections.
But others are still holding on to their positions.
They include Bungoma Woman Representative Catherine Wambilyanga, who doubles as Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education (Kuppet) gender secretary; and Bomet Central MP Ronald Tonui, who is Kuppet’s assistant treasurer, Mr Tom Odege, who is the MP for Nyatike and the current Secretary-General of the Union of Kenya Civil Servants.
Yet others are Mr Omboko Milemba (MP Emuhaya and Kuppet national chairman), Mr Mulei Mwalowa, Mr John Mwamusi, Ms Florence Bore (former Kuppet Kericho branch gender secretary) and Mr Richard Cheserem.
“The notification to vacate office applies to all trade union officials holding either nominated or elective positions in any county assembly or Parliament,” said Ms Kandie.
Ms Bore lost the position of gender secretary during last year’s poll.
The development appears deliberate as more than 2,000 Knut delegates are meeting in Mombasa and replacement of Mr Sossion is on the agenda, led by Jubilee-allied leaders in Knut.
Ms Kandie’s decision contradicts the position taken by her Principal Secretary, Dr Khadijah Kassachoon, who last month attended a dinner hosted by the said union leaders and asked them to fight for the rights of workers.
During the event, Dr Kassachoon asked the MPs to sit in the right committees so that they can push the agenda of workers in the country.
She said the focus of workers should not just be on salary increase but on many other issues, such as provision of better housing and healthcare to workers.
Kuppet Secretary-General Akello Misori Wednesday told union leaders to stay put, saying Ms Kandie was overstepping her mandate.
“Ms Kandie does not regulate unions, her position is that of an arbiter. She must be moved by someone to act.
Her focus is to arbitrate issues between workers and their employers,” said Mr Misori, insisting that it is only the registrar of trade unions who can issue such a directive.
Mr Sossion, on his part, said the action was politically motivated, adding that Ms Kandie was overstepping her mandate.
He said his fate is in the hands of more than 2,000 delegates meeting in Mombasa during their 60th annual conference.
“The delegates will give me direction [Thursday],” said Mr Sossion, who hinted that if the worst comes to the worst, he will stay with Kenyan workers.
Mr Odege also hit out at the government, saying the move is meant to silence vocal union leaders. “Ms Kandie has no power over trade unions; that is illegal,” said Mr Odege.
The exit of Mr Sossion would be a major win for Mr Mudzo Nzili, who is serving his mandatory retirement leave as chairman, and has since been replaced by Mr Wycliffe Omucheyi in an acting capacity.
Mr Nzili, who has been chairman of the union since 2013, has had a frosty relationship with Mr Sossion, who ousted him from the position of secretary-general following the death of Mr David Okuta.