Kenya pay strike leads to sackings

November 24, 2006

Further dismissals likely as universities forced to close, as Karen MacGregor reports.

Some 30 union activists have been sacked during a three-week strike staged by lecturers at Kenya's public universities. The unions say that at least one institution is threatening to fire all academics who fail to report back to work soon.

Academics have called for a 500 per cent pay rise, and the Government's response sparked the strike that has closed five of Kenya's six public universities. The issue goes to the industrial court on November 23, exactly a month after the strike began.

Joseph Nzomoi, national treasurer of the University Academic Staff Union (Uasu), said that some 20 campus representatives had lost their jobs.

He told The Times Higher : "Our ten national executive members have also all been sacked and are not receiving salaries."

Some universities are reported to be withholding part or all of the salaries of striking academics, and Uasu confirmed that its campus representatives - those who had not been fired - lost half their salaries in October.

Many of the roughly 80,000 students affected by the strike have gone home.

Two universities, Kenyatta and Maseno, said they aimed to reopen this week.

Dr Nzomoi said that Maseno had threatened to fire all academics who failed to return. "This is intimidation and illegal. Uasu is legally recognised as representing academics in Kenya," he said.

The only public institution that has escaped unscathed is the 34,000-student University of Nairobi. But while Dr Nzomoi claimed that "there is little teaching going on", spokesman Charles Sikulu said the institution had not been disrupted. "All students are being taught."

The Government accused lecturers of political motives. Kenya's public broadcaster reported that Koigi Wa Wamwere, the Assistant Information Minister, claimed that "dishonest individuals" were using the strike to gain political mileage ahead of elections next year, a claim Uasu dismissed.

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