On a bright Wednesday morning, Agnes Ouma sits on a blue plastic chair outside her neighbour’s house, in Jamhuri estate on Ngong road.
She is going through her phone book. Midway, she pauses and laments: “Nobody receives my calls these days.”
She thinks that most of her contacts have blacklisted her. Because whenever she calls, it is to ask for financial help. Since retrenchment, she says, she has been reduced to a borrower -- borrowing without any clear plan to repay.
“No wonder when I call, they don’t answer,” she remarks.
Before Ouma left Telkom in 2009, she had worked for 20 years, and was the personal assistant of the head of corporate communications. Even though her leaving was voluntary early retirement, she says, she got less than 50 per cent of her pension.
“Orange management was coming in to replace Telkom when I left, and I just did not feel like going on. When they gave us an option of leaving or staying, I left,” says Ouma.
On leaving, she expected to receive all her savings from Telposta Pension Scheme, however, less than 50 per cent of her savings was paid. Since then, life has been hard.
“I struggle to foot utility bills. As a result, electricity and water have sometimes been disconnected. Sometimes we have to stay in darkness with the children. Getting food is a problem,” said Ouma.
However, she thinks she is better compared to some of her former colleagues who, according to her, are struggling even harder.
Each day, she hopes the miscalculations will be ratified and the money she’s owed will be wired to her account.
As the interview progresses, Ouma points at a house a few metres away. There are baby clothes on the line. The house belonged to her former colleague who died four years ago. Now, the house hosts the late woman’s son, his wife and two children.
“Our neighbour started a business when she was retrenched, but it did not succeed. She opened a restaurant, then shut it down when it made losses. Before she died, she stopped associating with people, and would occasionally peep through the curtains to see what was going on outside,” says Ouma.
The story of loss is close to Mr James Ochieng’ Onyango, in whose compound we sit.
“Martin Ouma, my elder brother, was a Gor Mahia legend who died in May last year, while still waiting to receive the rest of his money. He had left the company in 1998.
Ochieng explains that his late brother left eight children that he’s now taking care of, in addition to the nine that his sister, who had died earlier, left behind.
He is also battling a heart condition. Recently, he held a fundraiser for his medication.
James Ochieng’s entry into the company was in 1979, when he started working at the Kenya External Telecommunications. He saw the company merge with Kenya Posts and Telecommunications, and saw the division in 1997-1998 when it split into the Postal Corporation, Telkom Kenya and the Communications Commission of Kenya, now Communications Authority of Kenya.
When he left in 2012, aged 55, he had given almost 33 years of service to the company and 15 years to independent Telkom Company.
“Other people were being retrenched, but we were old then, and they decided to release us on the basis that we had reached the retirement age. However, parastatals at that time released their elderly employees at 60. Before we left, they gave us a lump sum amount of our pension, but it wasn’t the full amount,” says Ochieng.
When he and his former colleagues demonstrated in the streets a few weeks ago, Ochieng’s heart was troubled.
“I am 65 years old now. I should be enjoying the company of my grandchildren. Instead, as sickly as I am, I had to participate in the demonstration to show my former employer that I am in dire need of the money they owe me. It is embarrassing that people see me in the streets demonstrating, yet we worked tirelessly for that company,” he said.
“My son called me and said, ‘father, please do not embarrass yourself out there. I do not like seeing you suffer. Just stay at home we will provide everything for you.’ But I still go, because there are others who can barely get out of their beds, have no medical insurance covers, and need people like me to fight for them,” says Ochieng.
Miles away, at the Umoja Innercore matatu stage, Leonard Wanga Adala, 54, is at work. He carries heavy loads of groceries on his shoulders, his clothes are tattered.
When he was retrenched in 2008, he had worked for the company for 21 years, having joined in 1986.
“When they informed us of the decision, they explained that the number of employees had risen, and needed to be reduced, citing lack of business,” says Wanga.
“I had children in class five and three, and one who had not started school. With the Sh900,000 that I got, I took them to school, but of course, it did not last and I had to hit the streets to look for more,” he adds.
“People who used to wear clothes with a waist size of 38 now wear size 24. Some of them have become beggars, and even these chokoras (street children) you see in town, some of them are children of our former colleagues. It breaks my heart,” says Wanga.
In their search for justice, the former Telkom employees say lawyers have also taken advantage of them, taking their hard-earned or borrowed money and convincing them that they will get their money from Telkom in months.
“There is one who told us that the calculations for the remaining amounts were being done in South Africa, and asked us to contribute Sh15,000 each to facilitate the procedure. But it was all lies. We found another one in 2019, but the whole of 2020, till now, he has been unreachable,” says Ouma.
Now, they worry that they might never be compensated.
“Or if it will ever come, we may be long gone,” says Enoch Aroko, the chairman of the former Telkom workers.
“Many of us cannot afford medication and our children dropped out of schools and colleges. We now meet to comfort each other. The unity and the company of one another becomes the only hope that keeps us going,” he adds.
In what they term as unfair retrenchment, the more than 5,000 former Orange Telkom France staff want a compensation that has “taken a lifetime” to be awarded to them.
When Telkom Kenya was restructured, and subsequently laid off employees in 2006, the Telposta Pension Scheme was mandated to pay them their final pension dues.
It would later turn out that the dues of the retrenched workers were miscalculated, occasioning “gross” underpayments. The former employees have, since 2007, walked a long road in their quest for justice.
“At the time of retrenchment, they told us that they would pay us the balance in due time. We later came to realize that the money they gave us was only 48 percent of what they owed us,” said Mr Joshua Mbogo.
Mr Mbogo explained he had a letter dated April 26th 2016 that disclosed the Teleposta Pension Scheme had Sh8 billion from the government to fund the balance owed pensioners.
The letter by the Retirement Benefits Authority “was addressed to one George K. Birgen and another person by the name Elijah Wanyoike,” he said.
A tribunal in 2011 ordered the Telposta Pension Scheme to pay the aggrieved former employees their dues by applying the rules of the scheme on accrued rights.
“A pension equal to 1/480ths of each appellant’s final pensionable salary for each complete month of pensionable service,” the tribunal ruled.
The tribunal also ordered that Teleposta may offset from any monies found due to each appellant any amount of benefits so far paid.
Teleposta was instructed to prepare and submit to each of the appellants a statement of account showing how the benefit payable is calculated and arrived at.
Also, the tribunal directed the corporation to pay interest on the sum found unpaid from the date it fell due until payment in full which shall not be less than the investment interest declared by Teleposta in the years that the benefit has remained due.
The Retirement Benefits Authority (RBA) in a letter dated April 26, 2016, acknowledged that Telkom Kenya non-contributory and contributory pension accounts (Telposta Pension Scheme) received Sh8 billion from the government to fund the actuarial deficit that was recorded.
“It seems other entities benefited at the expense of the workers,” Aroko says, adding that the socio-economic impact of the retrenchment has been devastating, especially to those who were in their 50s and have waited for more than 15 years for their pensions.
In 1999, Kenya Posts and Telecommunication Corporation (KPTC), was wound up and three separate entities were born: Telkom Kenya Ltd, the Postal Corporation of Kenya, and the Communications Commission of Kenya.
By virtue of the Kenya Communications Act of 1998, the former employees told the court, their services were transferred to Telkom Kenya Ltd from the defunct KPTC in terms of starting and maximum entry points and annual incremental credits, among others.
That Telkom Kenya Ltd, henceforth, was responsible for the employees’ non-contributory pension scheme and any employee who was retrenched, they said.