Kenya: Union sues university leaders over cuts to salaries of academics

published 7 July 2020 updated 10 July 2020

In Kenya, the Universities Academic Staff Union has taken the vice-chancellors of two universities to court over cuts in lecturers’ salaries, which had been previously suspended by a judge.

On 8 July, the Employment and Labour Relations Court in Nairobi, Kenya, will hear the details of a case brought by the Universities Academic Staff Union (UASU) against the vice-chancellors (VCs) of two public universities in Egerton and Kisii. The universities have severely reduced the salaries of 877 lecturers, giving funding difficulties as justification for the cuts.

The UASU is urging the court to jail Kisii university VC Professor John Akama and Egerton university VC Professor Rose Mwonya for disobeying court orders to suspend the cuts issued on 22 May.


The court orders suspended circulars adopted by the VCs. In its evidence, the union will present the circulars that were compiled without consultation with the education union:

  • Professor Mwonya sent a circular, dated 13 May, to all staff members about the pay cut, stating: “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has affected the entire country, the university is not able to generate enough funds internally to be able to pay salaries for the month of April 2020”. She said the fund shortage might remain for the duration of the pandemic. Mwonya stated that the management board resolved that the available funds be paid as follows: staff in Grade 5-19 would receive 60 per cent of their normal compensation, while staff in Grade 1-4 would receive 100 per cent of their salaries.
  • On 11 May, Professor Akama sent a circular to all staff saying that Kisii University was not able to pay full salaries for April 2020. He stated that the institution received KSh90,706,363 (around €752,590) while the total payroll if salaries were paid in full amounted to KSh147,331,149.02 (around €1,222,395), causing a deficit of KSh 56,624,786.02 (around €469,810).

Jail terms

The UASU stressed that both VCs knew about the court orders but ignored them. Thus, the VCs should be imprisoned for a period not exceeding six months, or be ordered to pay a fine of KSh200,000 each (around €1,600).

The union deplored the fact that Mwonya implemented a 40 per cent pay cut to his 581 academic staff, while Akama did not pay any salaries to 296 academic staff.

The two VCs were represented in court when the orders staying the implementation of the 40 per cent pay cut were issued. In addition, neither VC appealed against the court order suspending the pay cuts, so the court orders must be implemented, according to the union.

The UASU also insisted that continued withholding of lecturers’ salaries is causing them “economic duress, anguish as they are unable to meet their daily needs”.

It considers this to be a breach of the Kenyan constitution, legislation, collective bargaining agreements, and the academic staff’s employment contracts.

Union demands

It also demands that the two VCs personally attend the court hearing on 8 July, and for the court to issue:

  • A Declaration that the VCs’ circulars dated 11 and 13 May on reduced salaries are unconstitutional, null and void due to Articles 10, 41 , 47 and 232 of  the Constitution, the Universities Act No. 42 of 2012 and the  Employment Act 2017.
  • A Declaration that the VCs have infringed the UASU’s constitutional rights under Articles 10, 41, 47 and 232 of the Constitution.
  • A permanent injunction against the implementation of the circulars dated 11 and 13 May without the inclusion of the trade union’s input whether by the VCs, their servants, agents or whomever is acting on their behalf.

Union called for increase of public funding

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the UASU released a roadmap for the safe reopening of Kenya’s educational institutions and universities. The higher education union acknowledged that the incomes of universities had been severely affected and that the Government needed to bail out the public universities.

It urged public authorities to:

  • Increase funding for public universities by about KSh35 billion (around €292 million) to support research, ICT infrastructure, measures for social distancing, and staff remuneration.
  • Provide at least KSh35 billion for the Public University Education Stabilisation Fund which is distributed directly to public universities.